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Ahwazi men "confess" to belonging to obscure militant group

Forced confessions of 11 Ahwazi men broadcasted on Khuzestan TV blamed a little-known militant group that has supposedly resurfaced more than 20 years after it vanished during the Iran-Iraq War.

After months of incarceration in which they were tortured and their families threatened, the men "confessed" to belonging to the Mohi-eldain Al-Nasir Martyrs Brigade, which the Iranian regime blames for bomb attacks in Ahwaz. Khuzestan TV broadcast heavily edited clips from the confessions, which appear to be dubbed over (click here to download the television programme).

In the broadcast, 30 year old Ali Matouri Zadeh (pictured) "confessed" to heading the group. He had been a founding member of the Lejnat Al-Wefaq (Reconciliation Committee), which attempted to advance Ahwazi Arab minority rights through constitutional and legal means. It was set up in 1999 and participated in elections. Its general secretary, Jasem Shadidzadeh Al-Tamimi, succeeded in winning a parliamentary seat in the Sixth Majlis (2000-04) and Wefaq-backed candidates won all but one seat on the Ahwaz municipal council in 2003. However, in the last parliamentary elections in 2004, conservatives in the regime barred candidates nominated by Lajnat Al-Wefagh. The group was dismantled, closing down legal possibilities for demands for Ahwazi rights. This month it was outlawed for allegedly stirring up communalism against the regime - a claim that is without foundation.

Matouri Zadeh was arrested in February along with his pregnant wife, 26 year old school teacher Fahima Ismaili Badawi (pictured). She gave birth to a baby girl named Salma in the notorious Sepidar Prison in March. Both mother and daughter have remained in prison, with intelligence officials putting pressure on Fahima to denounce her husband, divorce him and change the girl's name to a Persian one. She refused and was sentenced in June to 15 years imprisonment by Branch 3 of the Revolutionary court in Ahwaz City.

Amnesty International has suggested the mother and daughter were held to pressure Matouri Zadeh to confess to participating in bomb attacks (click here for latest report). Matouri Zadeh's "confession" was probably intended to save his wife and daughter's lives, but has also vindicated the regime's violent clamp-down on Ahwazi Arab reformist groups such as Wefaq.

The sudden re-emergence of the Mohi-eldain Al-Nasir Martyrs Brigade has raised suspicions over its true origins. The group was named after Mohi-eldain Al-Nasir, an Ahwazi militant who was executed by Iran's monarchist regime in the 1970s, and played a small, brief part in Iraq's war with Iran (1980-88). The group was forgotten until last year, when the Iranian regime linked it to bomb attacks in Ahwaz. The attacks used powerful plastic explosives and the group has broadcast its own propaganda videos. It has also reportedly used Peugeot-brand cars, which few Ahwazis can afford to buy let alone destroy in bomb attacks. Some have claimed the group is linked to Iranian intelligence, attempting to terrorise ordinary Ahwazis and turn them against the civil rights movement. The regime itself has blamed the British government, although it has provided no proof to substantiate its claim.

The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) has called for a full and open investigation in the bomb attacks. It has also called for a retrial for the accused, pointing to the fact that the 11 men facing execution were sentenced after one-day trials in secret courts with little or no access to their lawyers.

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