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Syria releases three Ahwazis, but four remain in custody

The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) has received reports that the Syrian authorities have released three Ahwazi Arab refugees arrested in the past two weeks, apparently on the instruction of the Iranian government.

Ahmad Abiat, Mousa Sawari and Issa Alyassin were reportedly released. Little is known of the other captives, which include Dutch national Faleh Abdullah Al-Mansouri (60), leader of the Ahwaz Liberation Organisation (ALO) which was founded in 1990 and supports independence for Arab regions of Iran. According to the Gulf Times, the Dutch government has demanded an explanation from Syria over Al-Mansouri's detention. Al-Mansouri has been a resident of Maastricht in the Netherlands since he fled to the country in 1989.

There is mounting concern for Saeed Saki, an Ahwazi refugee with protection from the UNHCR who was deported by the Syrian government to Iran. Saki is believed to be in Iranian custody and is in danger of torture and execution (click here for more information).

Over the past year, international NGOs and UN agencies have documented the persecution of Ahwazi Arabs in Iran. Many Arabs believe that the Syrian government's decision to detain Ahwazis, most of whom are registered as refugees with the UNHCR, indicates that President Bashar Al-Assad is willing to sacrifice solidarity with persecuted Arabs for the sake of his new-found allegiance to Tehran.

The arrests of Ahwazi refugees were followed by the arrests of human rights activists in Syria who called for their release and the release of Syrians who backed the Damascus-Beirut Declaration which calls for Syria to respect Lebanese independence and sovereignty.

BAFS spokesman Nasser Bani Assad said: "The Syrian government's actions have been condemned by many Arab organisations and have generated solidarity behind the Ahwazi cause, particularly among Lebanese and Syrian democrats. Iran is taking increasingly desperate measures to halt the rise in anti-regime politics among Ahwazi Arabs, but its increasingly brutal methods - the imprisonment of the babies of Ahwazi dissidents, summary killings, torture, assassinations and other crimes against humanity - have merely attracted publicity and solidarity. We are getting messages of support from Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait, the UAE as well as Europe and North America as a direct result of Al-Assad's actions which were carried out on behalf of the Iranian regime.

"The arrest of eight Ahwazis in Syria has brought more solidarity and publicity than the thousands of Ahwazis arrested in Iran over the past year. The scandal surrounding Saki's deportation to Iran shows Al-Assad up as something of a blundering clown who has sold out Arabs to align with a hardline religious theocracy. Facing with criticism over Syria's alleged involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, Al-Assad is seeking protection from Tehran. Ahwazi refugees are paying a blood price for his desire for Iranian support."

In reporting the arrests of Ahwazis in Syria, the BBC has wrongly portrayed the Ahwazi struggle as a religious conflict between Sunni Arabs and the Shia-led Iranian state. In fact, 80 per cent of Ahwazi Arabs are Shia. The BBC has also claimed that the Ahwazi activists are involved in communal violence, but there is no evidence of attacks by Ahwazi Arabs on members of other ethnic groups in Khuzestan, where most Ahwazi Arabs live. Ahwazi resistance has mainly taken the form of non-violent demonstrations against the regime and its anti-Arab policies, rather than a campaign against Persians or other Iranian nationalities. Despite forced displacement of Arabs for the construction of settlements for non-Arabs brought in from outside the province, there has been little if any communal violence from Ahwazi Arabs against settlers.