The Iranian regime intensifies crackdown on Ahwazi activists in run-up to election

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In the run-up to the Presidential and municipal elections, scheduled for mid-May this year, the Iranian regime has embarked on a campaign of mass arrests of dozens of Ahwazi Arab activists, whose fate and whereabouts are unknown.

Many of the young Arabs who had been arrested, were done so on charges such as ‘inciting the Arab people not to participate in the elections’. This is after the appearance of graffiti slogans stating that the election has nothing to do with the Ahwazi people, and that it is these are the elections of the illegal Iranian occupation.

The Ahwazi rights group has received details about the arrest of three young men, Mahmoud Shehitawi, 25, Adnan Abayat, 24, and Lefteh Ghawabesh, 26. So far, according to the families of these men, there is no word or information regarding their fate.

On March 15, Iranian regime intelligence agents stormed the family home of a 23-year-old Ahwazi activist named Ali Zaheri Sari,  in the Thawra neighbourhood of Ahwaz city and brutally arrested him before taking him to an unknown location.   Ali, a law graduate who married recently, is a leading civil rights activist in the area.

According to Ali’s brother Mohammed Zaheri Sari, also an activist and former political prisoner in Iran, who now lives in Vienna after he managed to flee Iran in fear for his life, the regime thugs also savagely beat their younger brother, 19-year-old Amin when he protested against the brutal raid on the family’s home in the early hours of the morning as they were asleep, terrifying all the family members.

Mohammed, who was sentenced to death in absentia after he fled the country for his opposition to the regime, further revealed that during the raid the intelligence agents also seized two laptops, as well as taking clothes belonging to family members, with the regime viewing traditional Arab garments and any expression of Ahwazis’ Arab ethnicity as a threat.

In the past few days, the wave of arrests has reached the city of Sush, located northern to Ahwaz’s regional capital. During these arrests, the regime’s security forces opened fire on three young Ahwazi men, injuring one, Adel Abdul Khan, 24, in his legs and arresting him. The other two young men, friends of Abdul Khan, were also arrested. Their names are Ali Kaabi, 18 and Jamil Fazeli, 21. According to the Iranian security forces, they were writing anti-regime slogans and graffiti on walls.

This widespread action demonstrates that there is a national awareness among the Ahwazis and a growing determination to stand up to the Iranian regime’s brutal policies in the region. These policies include: racial discrimination at every level, destruction of the environment, land confiscation and demographic manipulation, exploitation of the wealth of the region while denying employment from the young Arabs, bringing non-Arabs into the region to work instead, and complete failure to allocate any money to maintain and develop the Arab areas where even the most basic needs for a decent life are lacking.

Pressures on the Iranian government, both regional and international, and internal conflicts have weakened the regime’s control over marginalized regions such as Al-Ahwaz. Therefore, in an attempt to limit the expansion of protests such as those that erupted at the beginning of March – against the high rate of unemployment, poverty, pollution and ecological damage in the area – it has intensified its repression against its critics and human rights activists especially in the election period which is always sensitive due to its high profile.

Very concerning reports are also coming in about arbitrary arrests and sentences carried out against young Ahwazi human rights activists that were forced to return to the region from other countries.

One of these activists, Diya Sawari, 23, was denied asylum in the Netherlands after fleeing the Iranian regime’s persecution and was forced to return to Iran. Sawari, was sentenced on Friday, March 3, by an Iranian court to six years in prison for the “crime” of attending protests calling for freedom. According to reports, he was savagely tortured during his detention and forced to sign a false confession.

Sawari took part in a number of protests and demonstrations calling for freedom and self-determination for Ahwaz. The most notable of these protests was the one that happened during a football match in Ahwaz in 2015. During the match, Ahwazi spectators unfurled banners calling for freedom and took off their outer garments to reveal their native Arab dress underneath. Ahwazi ‘Arabs are forbidden from wearing their traditional Arab garb or speaking in their native Arab tongue.

Ahwazi human rights sources have also reported on March 9, about the arrest of two Ahwazi Arab brothers, Kazim Sari, 26, and Abbas sari, 23, taken from their father, Mr. Saddam’s, house in the Shekarah  neighborhood , located in north Kot Abdullah county.

The arrest of these two young men came days after they were forced to return to Ahwaz from Sweden, after suffering hardships in a refugee camp, and over 18 months of delay in processing their application for asylum by the Swedish Department of Immigration. The Iranian security forces and revolutionary court have, to date, refused to give out any information to their family who is desperately seeking every avenue possible to obtain any news of their two boys.

All these measures clearly demonstrate that the forthcoming elections are creating new concerns for the Iranian government. Rouhani’s first term as president, has shown that the so-called reformist, is unable to fulfil his election promises to grant basic rights to ethnic groups such as the Ahwazi Arabs. This includes implementing articles 15 and 19 of the Iranian Constitution that allow ethnic minorities to be educated in their mother tongue. This has proven to minority groups that these were merely empty slogans and that the regime, in fact, has no plans or intentions, to address their plight.

Unable to pull the wool over their eyes no longer, the Iranian regime is clearly desperate to maintain control over this election period and is taking desperate measures in advance. We must make sure the world knows the truth and we must do everything possible to ensure that they are not allowed to get away with such despicable acts with impunity. Ahwazi rights groups are calling on International human rights organisations to put an end to this systematic crackdown on the Arab population.

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