Over the past few years, the Arab region of Ahwaz has been witnessing intensified political activism at home and abroad. These activities are aimed to achieve the national demands of the Ahwazis in the social, political and cultural areas.
Q: Could you simply paint a picture of the human rights situation in Ahwaz?
A: Human rights abuses in Ahwaz are too many to count. Among these violations is the demographic change being carried out in favor of the non-Ahwazi settlers brought from the Persian cities and provinces. There is also full-scale deprivation, poverty, unemployment, plunder of resources, indiscriminate arrests against activists and illegal executions upheld against several Ahwazi activists. In general, policies and projects of the Iranian regime are being carried out in full swing. We consider them tantamount to genocide in the full sense of the term.
Relatives of Ahwazi detainees in Sheyban prison say that their sons’ woes are increasing as the summer is setting in, with temperatures sometimes exceeding 50 degrees.
On the other side, the Iranian regime does not provide the necessary ventilation for the prison which includes a large number of political and rights activists locked up on various charges.
The relatives of the detainees said that the wards that contain a big number of political prisoners are overcrowded. This jamming of prisoners has led diseases to spread. Life-threatening diseases also broke out.
This is because there are no specialized doctors who can take care of the health of the prisoners. The Ahwazi prisoners, therefore, find it so hard to remain healthy in these conditions. These inhuman practices and violations have increased recently. As a result, families of the Ahwazi detainees voiced concern about the fate of their relatives due to the dire conditions they are facing there.
Q: How the Iranian regime and its governing institution deal with the Ahwazi people and their demands?
Over the past decades, the Ahwazi people’s demands have been rejected by the regime who depends solely on the security apparatus. All the demands that are raised in various ways, including the peaceful ones, were denied. The regime did not even implement the provisions of the laws drafted by its agencies. All the peaceful protests such as labor movement rallies in Ahwaz were put down by force. Furthermore, members of the cultural institutions were also repressed, jailed and executed. All the foregoing had one ultimate aim: Persianization. The Ahwazis were also denied their right to learn in their mother tongue.
In fact, Khomeini, like the Shah and the other rulers in Iran, had committed unspeakable crimes against the Ahwazi people. The first among them was Muhammarah Massacre, aka Black Wednesday. It took place on May 29th, 1979. In this carnage, 500 Ahwazis lost their lives, and hundreds were wounded. Mass executions followed the bloodshed. The fate of many of the victims is still unknown. All these atrocities were committed against the Ahwazis because of their legitimate national demands.
In June 1st, 2017, a statement by Amnesty International issued a report on discovering mass graves in Ahwaz containing people executed in the 1980s. Those people apparently faced extrajudicial executions, and they were buried in secret. They were not allowed to hire lawyers and were subjected to unfair trials. This runs counter to all international laws. Amnesty International denounced this heinous act.
A new report released by Ahwazi rights group confirmed that officials in Sheyban prison have assaulted dozens of Ahwazi prisoners in February of 2019. They brutally beat them up.
The rights groups called on the Iranian regime to punish all the officials who use brutal force against the detainees, regardless of their positions or military decorations.
They also called on the Iranian regime to immediately and unconditionally release all the detainees.
Sources familiar with the issue of the detainees in Iran said the regime officials punished 31 prisoners using various means including solitary confinement for a long period. They also deliberately insulted and humiliated them.
Sheyban prison, located in Ahwaz, is a notorious detention facility. Most of the political prisoners are locked up there. They are subject to horrendous forms of torture by the regime forces. They did nothing but standing in the face of the policies of the Iranian regime and calling for setting their homeland free.
Q: Has the rights situation of the Ahwazis improved after the fall of the Shah and Khomeini’s ascent to power?
The situation changed neither under the Shah nor Khomeini. As we see, all the projects aimed to change the demographic makeup that failed under the Shah have been carried during the era of the Islamic republic, as what we see today of the presence of Persian speaking minority in Ahwaz. This presence is part of the Persianization policy outlined by the Shah and his successor Khomeini.
Q: What about the situation of the Ahwazi detainees in Iranian prisons?
With a scant media focus and rights groups’ attention, the Ahwazi prisoners are plagued with the racism of the Iranian regime. The Iranian regime established the Revolutionary Courts to achieve this end. These courts were never affiliated by the real and independent judicial authority. They were instead run by the intelligence ministry which was under the direct supervision of Ali Khamenei. This is in addition to locking up activists in secret jails and keeping their fate unknown. Those detainees face physical and psychological torture for soliciting confessions. Upon confessing to crimes they did not commit, they get handed severe punishments such as death penalty and life imprisonment.
Also, laws of the Iranian jails do not apply to the Ahwazi prisoners. For instance, a prisoner should not be locked up in a jail outside his region for more than two years. As to the Ahwazi prisoners, many of them are exiled and thrown away in very remote Persian regions in northern Iran. They may spend more than ten years there. There is no healthcare for the Ahwazi prisoners with ailing health.
Ahwazi activists asserted that the suffering of the Ahwazi political prisoners and revolutionaries languishing behind bars in the prisons of the regime, including Sheyban prison, has been aggravated in recent times.
The activists say this suffering is due to the increase in the number of detainees who are squashed inside narrow cells. They deemed this act as a flagrant violation of the international human rights conventions and treaties.
According to them, the prison lacks the most basic essentials of life provided for in the international laws and covenants signed by the Iranian regime.
As a human rights activist, how you monitor the situation there? And what are your sources?
After receiving the information, we track and document through several rights activists inside Ahwaz. Then we send the information to the rights activists and media outlets. Regarding documenting the rights violations with the international organizations, we have faced some obstacles due to the powerful Persian lobby whose clout is strong there. But over the past years, Ahwazi activists have managed to document some abuses such as arrests and executions carried out by the regime against the Ahwazis.
Through this interview with the Herald Report, we call on the international human rights organizations to intervene to alleviate the suffering of the Ahwazi detainees. We call on these rights groups to exert more pressure on the Iranian government to commit it to stop violations against the Ahwazi Arab detainees and to rescue the Ahwazi detainees who are facing a slow death.
I call on the media to give attention to the cry of my Ahwazi people, and give ear to the voice of my oppressed people; they will become a light for all the oppressed people. The Ahwazi struggle could change the Middle East for the better – the wealth of the Ahwazi oilfields are the source of Iran’s divisive political interference in the Arab world and the oppression of all Iranian citizens, including Persians. But it requires unity and strategic direction. I call on the world powers as well as human rights groups and media to support the struggle for Ahwazis’ right to freedom of speech and association, including the right to debate self-determination, self-rule or any form of government they feel could help them realize their aspirations and liberate them from the Iranian multifaceted oppression.