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The threat of Tehran in Ahwaz

Leading human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell writes for The Guardian website on the persecution of the Ahwazi people by the Iranian regime, calling it a crime against humanity. Click here for the original article.



One year ago this month, the streets of the Ahwaz region of south-western Iran flowed with the blood of the country's persecuted Ahwazi Arab minority.

Faced with mass protests against Tehran's policy of ethnic cleansing, the Iranian security forces responded with savage brutality, killing over 160 civilians, wounding at least 500 more, and arresting 450-plus people.

Since the first days of the Ahwazi intifada in April 2005, many hundreds, possibly thousands, more Ahwazis have been arrested and detained without trial (the exact numbers are unknown because Tehran refuses to say how many are being held). A high proportion of detainees show signs of torture. Several Ahwazi pro-democracy activists have been framed and executed after show trials.

Tehran's latest evil ploy is to arrest the children and wives of Ahwazi political dissidents and hold them hostage. Kids as young as two years old are being held in prison as pawns, to force their fathers to surrender to the Iranian authorities.

The crushing of democracy and human rights in al-Ahwaz includes the suppression of political parties, newspapers and student groups. The arrest, jailing and torture of Ahwazi Arab activists is the norm.

What has been the response of the international community? Silence.

The west is preoccupied with Iran's nuclear programme, to the neglect of its persecuted people. There is no concern about the fate of the Ahwazis or the many other victims of Tehran's clerical fascist regime: Sunni Muslims, Kurds, trade unionists, socialists, women, gay people and many more.

George Bush and Tony Blair care only about whether Iran might eventually manufacture nuclear weapons and potentially threaten Israel or the west. They care not a jot about Tehran's ethnic, political and sexual repression of its own people.

The anti-war movement is not much better. It, too, ignores the suffering of the Ahwazis and all the other victims of Iran's theocratic dictatorship. Like many appeasers of tyranny throughout history, it puts peace before justice, even though peace and justice are not mutually exclusive. Some of us find no difficulty in opposing both a US attack on Iran and supporting the just struggles of the Ahwazis and other oppressed peoples of Iran.

Sadly, this is not the way much of the left sees it. There is no leftwing solidarity campaign to support the Iranian movements for democracy, human rights and social justice; even though the brutalities of the ayatollahs rival the worst excesses of Pinochet's Chile and South African apartheid.

What is happening to the Ahwazi Arabs is an indictment of the international community. Where is the concern of the UK, EU, US and UN about the wholesale forced removal of Ahwazis from their own lands, and their involuntary dispersal and relocation in distant, often barren regions of Iran?

Tehran is pursuing a policy that is tantamount to the "ethnic cleansing" of the Ahwazi Arab nation. This is a crime against humanity under international law.

The "ethnic cleansing" of the Ahwazis should come as no surprise. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a racist state. It is ruled by Persian chauvinists and neo-imperialists who brutally suppress their own minority nationalities, denying them the right to self-determination. The Ahwazis are not the only victims. Iran is also persecuting its Kurdish, Turkmen and Balochi minorities.

Despite living in the region of Iran richest in oil, the Ahwazi Arab people are victims of a cruel, deliberate impoverishment by the Iranian regime. All the wealth is being squeezed out. Little is spent in the region. The result? Standards of housing, education and healthcare in the south-west are way, way below the Iranian average.

For the oppressed people of Iran, the solution is clear. The Islamist dictatorship in Tehran must be overthrown; not by western invasion, but through a "people power" democratic revolution from below.

The Ahwazi people seek a democratic, secular state, with self-government for themselves and for all the other suppressed ethnic minorities of Iran. They deserve our support and solidarity, as do all Iranians struggling for human rights and social justice.