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More arrests of Ahwazi Arabs in Syria

The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) has learned that more Ahwazi Arabs have been arrested in Syria, including the leader of the Al-Ahwaz Liberation Organisation, and at least one Ahwazi political refugee has been deported to Iran.

ALO leader Faleh Abdullah al Mansouri (60) has lived in exile in Maastricht in the Netherlands since 1989 and is believed to have Dutch nationality. He was arrested along with a colleague from his party, Abdulrasoul Ali Mazraeh (51), who is registered with the UNHCR as a refugee and lives with his six children in Damascus.

Asylum seeker Saeed Owdeh Saki has also been arrested and BAFS has received reports that he has been deported to Iran where his life is in danger.

Al-Mansouri, Mazraeh and Saki are among eight Ahwazi men known to have been detained by the Syrian authorities (click here for information on arrests).

The ALO was formed in 1990 by a number of Ahwazi Arab organisations campaigning for a separate state of Al-Ahwaz. The ALO's Ahwaz Revolutionary Council (ARC) regards itself as the Ahwazi government in exile with Al-Mansouri as its President, although there are many Ahwazi groups that do not accept the ARC's assumed leadership of the Ahwazi movement.

BAFS and its allied groups, including the Democratic Solidarity Party of Al-Ahwaz, do not recognise Al-Mansouri's leadership, but are concerned for his welfare and the welfare of other Ahwazis currently in Syrian custody. BAFS activists are appealing to the Syrian embassy in London to explain the charges against all those detained in the past week and are calling on the Syrian government to respect the Geneva Refugee Convention and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. If Al-Mansouri has EU citizenship, any attempt to deport him to Iran could have a negative impact on Iran-EU relations.

Saki's deportation could pave the way for further deportations of Ahwazi Arabs from Syria, which has for many years been regarded as a sanctuary for Ahwazis fleeing persecution in Iran. Ahwazi refugees in Middle Eastern countries are facing increased insecurity as Iran seeks to stamp out all opposition to its regime, both inside and outside the country. Iranian agents are known to have assassinated an Ahwazi opposition leader Ra'ad De'ayer Al-Bestan Banitorfi in Iraq's Basra province (click here for report). Refugees in Kuwait and the UAE have also received death threats and are now in the process of being relocated. The Iranian government now appears to be expanding its state terror tactics against opposition activists outside Iran.

Many Ahwazi activists in the UK now fear that Iran may try to carry out assassinations in Europe in an attempt to halt the growing Ahwazi Arab uprising in Iran. Some Austrian politicians have accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of involvement in the assassination of Iranian Kurdish leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou and two of his associates in Vienna in 1989 during peace negotiations with the Iranian government. At the time, Ahmadinejad was an engineer serving with a unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards specialising in extra-territorial activities; some organisations claim he gave logistical support to the assassination campaign in Austria. Now he is President, many fear he is seeking to step up violence against exiled dissidents.

Deportations from Syria and the assassination in Iraq, along with reports that Ahwazi Arab refugees are being expelled by the Iranian-influenced Iraqi government, indicates that the Iranian regime is prepared to export the kind of terror tactics it has used against Ahwazi Arabs in their homeland in Khuzestan.

BAFS spokesman Nasser Bani Assad said: "The Syrian authorities need to explain why they are suddenly arresting Ahwazi Arabs who have been resident in Syria for many years and are legally recognised as refugees. Due to Saki's deportation, it appears that the Ahwazis are being detained on the request of the Iranian government rather than any allegation that they have broken Syrian law.

"If the Ahwazis are being charged with any crime committed in Syria, then we request the Syrian authorities to ensure the accused are guaranteed a free, fair and transparent trial that meets international standards. If they are not being held in connection with any alleged crime, then they should be released immediately.

"We would like to remind the Syrian and Iraqi governments that any assassination or kidnap of residents and citizens of other countries is illegal and in our view constitutes an act of terrorism. Syria's deportation of Saki, who has not to our knowledge broken any Syrian law, indicates that the Syrian government is a participant in Iran's terror tactics against Ahwazis.

"If this is all about creating a good impression with the Iranian regime, then Syria is playing a dangerous game. Al-Mansouri's detention could prompt interest in the arrests by EU officials as he is a permanent Dutch resident and possibly and EU citizen. If he is not released, then Syria's involvement with Iran's repression of Ahwazi groups will come under scrutiny by the Dutch government and the European Commission.

"It remains to be seen whether Syria is willing to heighten diplomatic tensions with the EU over the Ahwazi issue at a time when President Bashar al-Assad is facing mounting pressure over the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri."