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Iran's mass arrest of Ahwazi tribal leaders and intellectuals

The Iranian security forces have embarked on a campaign of mass arrest of Ahwazi Arabs, an Iranian minority group who make up the majority of citizens in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan.

The Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation (AHRO) has received accounts from family members and eye-witnesses which confirm that in recent weeks at least 260 prominent journalists, lawyers, tribal leaders, teachers, students political and human rights activists have been arrested in the cities of Ahwaz, Hamidieh, Mohamarah (Khoramshahr), Abadan and other cities of Khuzestan. Among the arrested were many tribal leaders, including Haj Salem, his sons and extended family members: Amad Bawi, Zamal Bawi, Hani Bawi, Asad Bawi, Mohsen Bawi, Mansour Tyouri and Hassan Boughedar.

The arrests come after a series of anti-government demonstrations and the sabotage of oil wells, which have been blamed on "British agents". The government claims it has evidence of British involvement in the uprising in Khuzestan, but has not published any proof.

The AHRO has released an appeal, in which it calls for:
- the immediate release of all Ahwazi Arab detainees and all Iranian political prisoners detained since the Ahwazi uprising began on 15 April.
- intervention from the international community - in particular the European Union - to address the issue of minority rights and freedom of speech in all the bilateral and multilateral talks with Iran.
- an end to the state of siege and the redeployment of military and security forces out of the province.

Karim Abdian, the AHRO's Executive Director, said: "We warn the Iranian regime that its latest wave of oppression and arrest of the poor and desperate Ahwazis could only further frustrates and radicalize the indigenous Ahwaz youth and provide the impetus for further violence. We urge the UNHCHR to call upon Iran to stop killing of innocent indigenous Ahwaz Arab people of Khuzestan and dispatch a fact finding delegation to Khuzestan (al-Ahwaz)."

Nasser Ban-Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS), said: "If the regime is so confident that the British are behind the Ahwazi uprising, then why is it arresting journalists, academics, human rights campaigners and tribal leaders? These people do not have guns; their only weapon against the Iranian state is their voice.

"The truth is that the problems in Khuzestan are related to the regime's oppression of the local population and some of the world's worst poverty rates. The Ahwazi Arabs are living in absolute squalor and are arrested, tortured and murdered if they demonstrate any objection. This is what happened in the Bloody Friday massacre in April when children and a pregnant woman were among those murdered by government snipers.

"State violence, racial discrimination and squalor are the causes of the unrest in Khuzestan, not foreign insurgency. The arrests are an attempt to silence anyone voicing dissent."

In the past 10 years, the Iranian government has confiscated more than 250,000 hectares of indigenous Ahwazi farmland and the inhabitants have been forced to leave their homeland and migrate to non-Arab provinces. United Nations Special Rappartour for Housing Miloon Kothari criticised the treatment of Ahwazi Arabs during his visit to Khuzestan in July 2005 [report].