Amnesty International published an urgent action this week highlighting the incommunicado detention and possible torture of four Ahwazi Arabs who participated in demonstrations by Arabs during the Eid al-Fitr celebrations.
The detainees include the poet 23-year-old poet Nasr Daraji (also known as Firouz Abou Farhan), who is a supporter of Arab rights and had allegedly helped lead the Eid protests. Brothers Karim and Abdulali Douraghi as well as a man known only by his surname, Eshagi, were also named in the Amnesty report as being potential victims of torture.
According to the Amnesty report, Daraji had fled his family home after friends had warned him that he was on a "wanted" list: "He went into hiding, but returned to his home late in the night of 6 November, to visit his aging parents and get some clean clothing. The house was immediately raided by police and he was arrested at about 3am. Police reportedly beat his mother, who is aged about 65 and suffering from diabetes, when she asked why her son was being arrested and where he was taken."
The Eid demonstration was intended by the organisers to be a peaceful show of Arab identity and culture, but police attacked the crowd with tear gas grenades as the marchers approached the city's 5th bridge and beat and arrested youths. Some Ahwazi homes raised black flags in protest at the regime's repression during Eid.
The regime tried to portray the demonstration as a separatist ploy to generate unrest, claiming that a group called the Arab People's Group had staged a riot. No group of this name exists. Protests by Ahwazi Arabs are largely the result of economic deprivation and political and cultural oppression, with the government's own statistics revealing high levels of unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and child malnutrition. The Amnesty report stated that "the Arab population do not feel they have benefited as much from the oil revenue as the Persian population; historically they have been marginalised and discriminated against, for instance being denied the right to an education in their own language."
The march and demonstration were largely a show of local defiance against state repression, which has increased following Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's installation as president. More than 200 demonstrators were arrested during the Eid protest. The security forces were ordered to attack by General Amir Hayat Moghadam, recently appointed the Governor of Khuzestan by President Ahmadinejad. He had warned the demonstrators that any Ahwazi Arab wearing traditional Arabic clothing would be arrested, indicating that the regime would not tolerate any display of Arabic culture.
Days before the Eid protests, 81 Ahwazi Arabs were arrested while conducting a cultural play called Mahibis, a popular event performed during iftaar, following fasting in the month of Ramadan. The arrested included Zahra Nasser-Torfi, a feminist leader and director of the Ahwaz Al-Amjad cultural center, Arab-Iranian poet Hamid Haydari and the entire Mojadam family - Mohammad Mojadam, Hamid Mojadam, Mehdi Mojadam, Rasoul Mojadam, Khaled Bani-Saleh and Hassan Naisi. These arrests were a contributing factor to the Eid protests.
Tensions have also been running high over the arrest of seven sons and close relatives of Arab tribal leader Hajj Salem Bawi. In October, two of his sons were sentenced to death for alleged insurrection. Their executions will be carried out if the Supreme Court approves the death sentence issued by the lower court. All seven have been tortured in prison. Previous Arab political detainees have been lynched or executed summarily while in prison and their bodies have been dumped in the Karun River.
Khuzestan is off-limits to reporters and outside observers while maintaining state of siege of the province whose population is 70 per cent is indigenous Arab. Al-Jazeera was banned in the province after it covered demonstrations by Arabs against the government's plan to reduce the proportion of Arabs in the province to a third of the total population.
The Amnesty International report can be downloaded by clicking here.