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Former Iranian MP in Ahwazi appeal

Jasem Shadidzadeh Al-Tamimi, a former member of Iran's Majlis and the Secretary General of the Islamic Wefagh Party, has appealed to President Khatami to address the problem of displacement, homelessness and deprivation among Ahwazi Arab people.

In an open letter to the President, he brought attention to the fact that "lands are 'purchased' at a dirt cheap price from the Arab farmers and sometimes taken without any compensation." He condemned the government's practice of bulldozing Arab neighbourhoods in the Iranian province of Khuzestan, particularly the destruction of the Sepeedar Residential Complex where 4,000 Arabs were made homeless by security forces despite objections by members of parliament.

Mr Shadidzadeh, who lost his seat during last year's Majlis elections when "troublesome" reformists were barred from standing, indicated that he shared the frustration of Khuzestan's Ahwazi Arabs, who have endured "one hundred years of pain and sufferings."

He cast doubt on the ability of reformists to alleviate the suffering of Ahwazis within the current constitution, saying "our wishful thinking about reforms in Arab affairs by the Reformists has been only a mirage." He added that the government's refusal to allow Arab parties, such as the Islamic Wefagh Party, to contest elections and its continuing ban on Arabic language newspapers and magazines was denying Ahwazi Arabs the right to air their grievances in a peaceful and democratic fashion. The Iranian Arab politician called on President Khatami to "do your utmost in lowering the 'wall of mistrust' between the proud Iranian ethnicities, so that the 'infected wounds' of the Arab people of Ahwaz may heal."

In relation to the recent Ahwazi uprising, Shadidzadeh requested that the President release prisoners, especially children, women, and political and cultural activists affiliated with legal but unofficial organizations. He also asked the President to release the bodies of those killed in the protests so they can be buried and mourned. Innocent prisoners who played no role in the rioting should be compensated, he added.

Shadidzadeh, a reformist from Khuzestan, is a critic of the brutality of law enforcement forces in the province. In the past, he condemned the employment of Badr Brigade militias belonging to the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SCIRI), now members of Iraq's ruling coalition, against Ahwazi Arabs in Khuzestan. The SCIRI militias were used by the regime in December 2002 during a series of uprisings in the Khuzestan cities of Ahwaz, Khoramshahr and Koot-Abdollah. The revolt occurred after the regime decided to confiscate satellite dishes and close down shops selling music and video tapes of Arabic music and dancing. Around 300 youths aged between 12 and 18 were arrested by security forces and SCIRI militias.