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Ahwaz elections: Iran's intimidation, repression and racism

Ahwazi Arabs have staged a mass boycott of the elections to the Ahwaz municipal council and the Assembly of Experts amid accusations of electoral fraud, intimidation and political repression.

Writing in the Arabic media, leading Ahwazi journalist Youssef Azizi Bani Torouf has highlighted the regime's ban on Arab candidates, with members of the Ahwaz council prevented from seeking re-election.

In the 2003 elections to the council, all but one of the winning candidates were supported by the Lejnat Al-Wefaq (Reconciliation Committee) which advocated Arab minority rights on the basis of the equal rights enshrined in the Iranian Constitution. The elections were widely praised for being free, fair and transparent. Since then, the party has been outlawed and Wefaq members have been imprisoned, with leading members such as Ali Matouri Zadeh now facing execution.

In this year's elections, the regime has blocked over 170 Ahwazi Arabs from running for election to the Ahwaz municipal council following a racist vetting procedure conducted by the regime. While Ahwaz City is 70 per cent Arab, the vast majority of candidates allowed to stand for election are non-Arabs, including hardliners from the Revolutionary Guards which has conducted ethnic cleansing programmes in the province.

In the run-up to the polls, the regime conducted mass arrests of Ahwazi Arabs and fired on crowds of demonstrators with live ammunition (click here for further details). The Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation reports that three Ahwazis arrested by the security services during recent demonstrations - Hassan Mola Niassi (31), Jassim Nadhan Niassi (30) and Nasseri Ramadan (26) - are being tortured in custody.

Nasser Bani Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society, said: "These elections have been marred by state violence, intimidation and electoral fraud. The bar on Arab council members from seeking re-election in order to elect hardline non-Arab outsiders is yet more proof of violent institutional anti-Arab racism in Iran.

"The elections violate the spirit of Iran's constitution, particularly Articles 15, 19 and 20 which guarantee equal rights for ethnic minorities. If the government is violating the constitution, then the government has no mandate to govern and no authority over the Ahwazi Arabs.

"Ahwazis have the right to disrupt peacefully all the activities of illegitimate municipal authorities and sabotage the instruments of their oppression. We urge Ahwazi Arabs to adopt civil disobedience tactics to overthrow the new Ahwaz City Council, whoever is declared the winner."