The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) Arab rights lobbying group has called on the international community to put human rights abuse and economic mismanagement at the top of relations with Iran.
Opposition groups feel that Iran's deteriorating domestic situation has been neglected due to the controversies surrounding the nuclear issue. The first few months of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration have seen a rise in human rights abuses, while the problems associated with high levels of poverty go unaddressed. However, this is occurring with little or no criticism.
The situation facing the Ahwazi Arabs is particularly bad. Since Ahmadinejad's election last June, human rights groups such as Amnesty International and the Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation have recorded the imprisonment of a large number of peaceful pro-democracy activists, including tribal leaders, imams journalists and teachers (see www.ahwaz.org.uk/reports.html). Traditional Arabic dress has also been banned following mass public prayers in Ahwaz by Arabs wearing the kuffiyeh in a sign of their resistance to ethnic oppression.
In its latest urgent action, Amnesty International has highlighted the incarceration of two children - 11-year-old Reza Haidari and 14-year-old Kazem Sayahi - following demonstrations during Eid-al-Adha in January. The organisation fears that they, along with scores of other Ahwazi Arabs held in custody, could be facing torture at the hands of Iranian security officials.
BAFS spokesman Nasser Bani Assad said: "Iranians would rather have the huge resources spent on the nuclear programme directed towards poverty alleviation. The Ahwazi Arabs feel particularly aggrieved as the oil revenues generated by land confiscated from them are being squandered on this project. In contrast, legislation to redistribute just a fraction of these revenues to Khuzestan was overturned for a third time in January.
"The regime is building a nuclear plant in earthquake-prone Khuzestan. A containment failure in the event of a natural disaster would devastate not only the Ahwazi homeland but also Kuwait and parts of Iraq. This nuclear facility comes at the expense of Ahwazi Arabs' security and economic well-being.
"Experts say it will be years before Iran can develop nuclear weapons, if that is the regime's intention. But the ethnic cleansing of Ahwazi Arabs from their homeland and their deliberate impoverishment by the regime is happening today. It is an emergency situation that is being eclipsed by the nuclear issue. The international community should not abandon those oppressed by the Iranian government.
"Only a federal democratic Iran that respects human rights can ensure long-term stability and security in the Middle East and prosperity for the people. This is what many Iranians, particularly Ahwazi Arabs, are demanding."