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Relative Of Hanged Ahwazis Calls for International Prosecution Of Judges

A relative of two executed Ahwazi Arabs is calling on the international community to issue a warrant for the arrest of two Iranian judge...

Syria/Iran: Renewed appeals for Ahwaz refugees

Syria/Iran: Renewed appeals for Ahwaz refugees

Appeals for the release of Ahwazi Arab UNHCR-registered refugees detained in Damascus have been stepped up as Ahwazi activists have revealed that two refugees have been illegally deported to Iran by the Syrian Baathist regime.

Ali Bouzar, who was waiting for refugee status after fleeing for his life from Iran, was deported just 12 hours after his arrest earlier in March. His mother has reportedly travelled to Damascus and has held a vigil outside the Syrian Foreign Ministry in protest at his deportation. According to reports, she is challenging all officials and ministers entering the ministry building.

Kamal Nawaseri is also believed to have been deported. A UNHCR-registered refugee, Kamal Nawaseri, is also believed to have been returned to Iran, contrary to international law.

A further five are understood to be in custody, although they may also have been returned to Iran. Among them is Afnan Azizi Bani Torouf, the son of Ahwazi Arab writer Youssef Azizi Bani Torouf, who remains in Tehran despite harassment by the authorities.

This week, Youssef sent an appeal to international human rights organisations and the Syrian government for the release of his son (click here for report). He has also issued an appeal to Bashar al-Assad, which said: "I ask you to consider the release of my son Afnan, who wasarrested in Damascus. I am sure he has never opposed the Syrian regime, or his country's regime ... I send this letter to you as a father with a wounded heart and from a mother who is dumbfounded over the arrest of our son, which has yet to be explained. However, I know that my son ... has not been politically active either in Iran or Syria and spent his life in Tehran before leaving Iran for studying at the university. I am sure that he did not commit a crime, because if he did I would oppose him myself." (click here for the text of the letter)

Youssef's appeal has been backed by Syrian human rights groups. He is well-known in Syria for his work in cross-cultural relations between Syria and Iran and has translated the works of Syrian authors into the Persian language.

Ahwazi groups are continuing to mediate through UNHCR with the Syrian authorities for the release of Ahwazi detainees.

In February, the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) reported that Abdul Rasoul Mazrae, one of the Ahwazi refugees currently being tortured in an Iranian prison, will soon face trial. Mazrae has spent the past 10 months in solitary confinement in a prison in Ahwaz. He has also undergone physical and psychological torture. As a result of his torture, he is urinating blood and has lost all his teeth. His kidneys and liver are also damaged and injuries to his spine have left him unable to walk. His torturers have ordered him to give a televised confession for crimes he did not commit (click here for more information). If young men arrested in Syria are forcibly returned to Iran, they are likely to meet the same fate.
Kidnapping and Iran's militarisation of the Shatt al-Arab

Kidnapping and Iran's militarisation of the Shatt al-Arab

Iran's capture of 15 British navy personnel at gunpoint on the Shatt al-Arab, purportedly in Iraqi waters, is inextricably linked to the regime's long-term ambition to impose its territorial control over the strategic waterway and hold Baghdad hostage to its interests.

The left bank of the Shatt al-Arab is witnessing a large-scale militarisation programme which is being conducted under the auspices of the Arvand Free Zone Organisation (AFZO), a state-run group that aims to extend the regime's economic, political and military influence over the Shatt al-Arab and ultimately Iraq. The AFZO's plans for the military-industrial zone were outlined in a letter issued to indigenous Ahwazi Arab residents living within the zone instructing them that their land would be confiscated (click here to download the BAFS report). The confiscation programme is nothing short of ethnic cleansing for the sake of Iran's neo-imperialism.

Arab Shia tribes have populated regions on both sides of the Shatt al-Arab for centuries if not millennia. The leaders of the Bani Kaab tribe owned land on both banks of the waterway, giving them considerable influence and political autonomy. Any foreign power wishing to gain influence over trade along the Shatt al-Arab had to deal with the Bani Kaab leadership, which controlled the Sheikhdom of Mohammara. The Ottomans confiscated the land belonging to the Bani Kaab in the 19th century and Reza Pahlavi deposed Sheikh Kazal, the de facto ruler of the oil-rich Arabistan region, following his military coup in 1925. Arabistan was renamed Khuzestan and Mohammara was renamed Khorramshahr. The area came to prominence in 1980, when Iraq invaded Khuzestan ostensibly to “liberate” the Ahwazi Arabs, although Saddam was no doubt taking advantage of Iran’s post-revolutionary turmoil to seize the region’s massive oilfields. The narrowness of the Shatt Al-Arab also enabled Iran and Iraq to stage large-scale amphibious assaults during the war. In February 1986, 30,000 Iranian troops crossed the Shatt Al-Arab in a surprise attack to invade and occupy Iraq's Al-Faw peninsula and create a bridgehead for further advances into Iraq.

The Marsh Arabs of Iraq's Basra province suffered ethnic cleansing and repression under Saddam's regime while in Iran the Ahwazi Arabs have endured violent persecution under the Pahlavi dynasty and the Islamic Republic. On both sides of the waterway, the governments of Iran and Iraq have viewed the indigenous population as disloyal and a threat to their territorial claims. They were perceived as a threat by Saddam because they are predominantly Shia, while the Iranian regime sees them as having innate pan-Arab sympathies. Ethnic cleansing has been used by both countries as a method of securing control and territorial claims over the Shatt al-Arab.

The AFZ is the latest development in the Iranian regime's campaign to rid the left bank of Ahwazi Arabs and impose Iranian control over the Shatt al-Arab. The latest seizure of British personnel is a symptom of this quiet militarisation programme. Land acquisition and ethnic cleansing are intimately bound up with militarisation. Over recent years, the Iranian regime has confiscated large tracts of land from local Arabs and transferred ownership to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and state-owned enterprises. Around 47,000 hectares of Ahwazi Arab farmland in the Jofir area near the Ahwazi city of Abadan has been transferred members of the security forces and government enterprises. More than 6,000 hectares of Ahwazi farmland north of Shush (Susa) has been taken to "resettle" the faithful non-indigenous Persians, following directives issued by the Ministry of Agricultures and the Revolutionary Guards Corp Command. These policies have forced Ahwazi Arabs into poor shanty towns.

The AFZ is located along the narrowest and most strategically sensitive part of the Shatt al-Arab and includes a large number of Revolutionary Guards naval posts, which are used to patrol the waterway and protect Iranian arms smugglers entering Iraq. It stretches 30km from Abadan along the Shatt Al-Arab to the land border between Basra and Khuzestan. The zone is in three segments: an island and adjacent land measuring 30 square km, a strip of land north of Khorramshahr measuring 25 square km and an in-land eastern segment measuring around 100 square km in area. The total land area of the Arvand Free Zone is around 155 square km and includes Arab towns and villages. At certain points, the zone is literally within a stone's throw of Basra.

The Shatt al-Arab is the most politically sensitive area of the Middle East. Whoever controls the waterway controls movements from Iraq to the Gulf, including oil shipments, as well as serving as an important trade route for the entire west of Iran. Control over the disputed waterway led to wars between the Persian and Ottoman empires in the 17th and 19th centuries and more recently Iraq and Iran.

The AFZ has seen the mass expulsion of Arabs, the destruction of their villages and the creation of an exclusive military-industrial zone. The expulsion campaign began with the Arab farmers located on Minoo Island, near Abadan (click here for information). The islanders were bullied by AFZO officials into giving up their land before the official deadline, indicating an increasing sense of urgency associated with establishing the zone. In all, up to 500,000 indigenous Ahwazi Arabs are being displaced by the creation of a 5,000 square km security zone, of which the AFZ is just a part, along the Shatt al-Arab.

The zone's security element has strengthened covert operations inside Iraq, with the objective of securing an early exit of Coalition troops, influencing Iraq's political system and using patronage to control local authorities in Basra. The zone is also being used to train, fund and organise militias loyal to Tehran. Mahdi Army leader Moqtada al-Sadr and several Iranian-backed politicians belonging to the ruling United Iraqi Alliance have recently visited the area.

Documents from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) Fajr Garrison in Khuzestan, which serves as the organisation's main headquarters for southern Iran, show that Tehran is employing up to 40,000 agents in Iraq. The information was first revealed in March 2005 by former Iranian agents who defected due to pay cuts and subsequently confirmed by Coalition troops in Iraq. Fajr Garrison hosts the IRGC's Qods Force, which runs the vast underground network in Iraq. Agents are paid by middle-men, who carry out regular visits to Ahwaz City to obtain payments and be debriefed by Qods commanders.

The regime's activities in Khuzestan and the left bank of the Shatt al-Arab are related to the rise of militias in Basra and the British government's discovery that weapons used by insurgents were likely to have originated from the IRGC via the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah. It is no coincidence that attacks on British troops, a sudden upsurge in militia activity in Basra province and the seizing of British naval personnel on the Shatt al-Arab have occurred at the same time as Ahwazi Arabs are being removed from the area to make way for the AFZ. Greater international attention to the plight of the Ahwazi Arabs would hinder the pace of militarisation along the Shatt al-Arab and stymie Iranian efforts to control Iraq.
Ahwazi cleric denounces jihadism and theocracy in Westminster conference

Ahwazi cleric denounces jihadism and theocracy in Westminster conference

In a speech to a conference on Shi'ism and democracy held at the Palace of Westminister on Tuesday, Ahwazi Arab Shia cleric Sheikh Mohammed Kazem al-Khaqani described jihadist suicide bombing and Iranian theocracy as impermissable in Shia Islam.

Sheikh al-Khaqani is the son of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Taher al-Khaqani, a leading Ahwazi cleric who was imprisoned immediately after the Islamic Revolution in Iran for advocating the separation of religion and state. The Grand Ayatollah died in suspicious circumstances while under house arrest in Qom. Sheikh al-Khaqani has made it his mission to continue his father's mission to advocate an authentic understanding of Shia doctrine, with tolerance, human rights and secularism at the heart of his teachings. He has been invited to the UK by the British Ahwazi Friendship Society, which is organising lectures and media interviews with the Sheikh.

At the Palace of Westminster meeting, which was organised by the Henry Jackson Society, Sheikh Al-Khaqani stated that Islam was based on the love of God and the right to justice, with the right to life as the first and most important human right. He reminded the audience that terrorist acts, particularly those aimed at other states, cannot be considered Islamic. He said: "Justice and faith necessarily dictate that no one should snatch any right from others ... [T]errorists who don explosive belts that kill innocents ... have no connection with the three celestial faiths [Judaism, Christianity and Islam]."

He added: "It is one of the particular doctrines of the Shia that Jihad in the sense of conquering a country is not permitted - that it is not the right of Muslims, but on the contrary is utterly forbidden"

Repeating the Qu'ran's statement that "there is no compulsion in religion", Sheikh al-Khaqani said that people were free to choose whatever belief they wanted and had the right to abandon Islam if they wish. The Sheikh's insistance that Islam cannot be imposed by force contradicts the Iranian regime's policy of executing anyone considered heretical or an apostate. Moreover, justice should be applied equally to all, regardless of whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim.

Sheikh al-Khaqani stated that Shi'ites should not use the flag of religion to topple states or political systems, suggesting that Iran's Islamic revolution violated Shia tradition. The use of religion to topple states - as was the case in the Islamic Revolution in Iran - is "is an erroneous banner, allied with a tyranny worshipping principals inferior to God Almighty." Instead, "the choice of political systems follows the peoples' choice. Indeed God Almighty has given an indication of how Islamic Society should be when He said in the Qu'ran: 'He ordered them to take counsel among themselves', namely that Muslims should act by mutual consultation among themselves, in all matters relating to their social lives and their system of governance."

Absolute theocracy, as seen in Iran, cannot therefore be considered as Islamic. If the Prophet Mohammed was required to consult with the people at every point, so too must all systems of government in the Muslim world. Sheikh al-Khaqani added that "the man of faith must be only a guide and a spiritual father, who refrains from intervening in affairs of governance. So it is also incumbent on the state not to intervene in matters of the faith and its institutions."

The rule of Imam Ali, who is considered the first Islamic Caliph among Shia Muslims and the fourth among Sunni Muslims, should provide a lesson on the values of tolerance and justice to Muslims in the modern world. Sheikh al-Khaqani pointed to Ali's forgiveness for his political adversaries and even when he was victorious over them in war he did not confiscate their wealth. The Sheikh's comments are particularly relevant to Ahwazi Arabs, who have been subjected to large-scale land confiscation programmes after the Iranian monarch Reza Pahlavi ended centuries of Arab autonomy when he deposed the local ruler Sheikh Khazal in 1925.

Sheikh al-Khaqani concluded his speech by stating that social injustice and human rights violations in Muslim countries were "inconsistent with the humanitarian message of Islam or other faiths." However, he reminded the audience that "some of the despotism with which we live in Eastern countries and a generation tolerating the violence and terrorism that it brings forth" may have its roots in the "past and present errors by Western states." He called on Westerners to take responsibility for these errors and help put them right in order to combat despotism and terrorism.

Click here to download Sheikh al-Khaqani's speech
Ahwazi journalist appeals for information on son

Ahwazi journalist appeals for information on son

Ahwazi journalist Youssef Azizi Bani Torouf has issued an appeal to human rights organisations to help him discover the fate of his son, Afnan Azizi, who was one of the five refugees arrested in Syria (report in Al-Qabas newspaper).

Afnan was arrested after submitting a request for asylum with the UNHCR in Damascus, although he has not been politically active in Syria. The Syrian regime has so far deported five UNHCR-registered Ahwazi refugees back to Iran, in contravention of international law. These refugees are arrested as soon as they land in Tehran. The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) has received reports that the refugees have been severely tortured by members of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence. Meanwhile, Syrian agents have put the UNHCR building in Damascus under surveillance and are relaying information on Ahwazi refugees' asylum claims to Iran.

The treatment of Ahwazi refugees has prompted Youssef Azizi Bani Torouf to issue his appeal for more information on his son. Youssef is a respected writer in Iran and has published 24 books in Persian and Arabic, including research on Ahwazi Arabs and modern Arab thought, translations and novels. Twelve years ago, Youssef visited Damascus at the invitation of the Syrian Ministry of Culture in acknowledgement of his contributions to Arabic literature. However, his call for an end to state violence against persecuted Ahwazi Arabs at the height of the Ahwazi intifada of April 2005 led to his brief incarceration for "threatening national security", although no charges were brought against him. Since then, Youssef has been threatened with arrest and prosecution in relation to hardline claims that he supports separatism, although he has stated that the "Arabs of Khuzestan, as a nation or an ethnic group or whatever you like to call it, are inseparable parts of the Iranian nation."

Afnan's claim for asylum is possibly in relation to his father's treatment by the authorities and fears that he could be targetted by the regime. In the past year, the wives and children of Ahwazi human rights activists have been imprisoned in order to force them into giving false confessions to terrorist acts that they have not committed.
Healthcare discrimination in Ahwaz

Healthcare discrimination in Ahwaz

By Pooran Saki

Arab people in Khuzestan are suffering immensely from unnecessary deaths and subsequent bereavement as a result of the non-availability of basic health facilities. People in Khuzestan still do not have basic essential such as a sufficient number of doctors, if any at all, and medicines and hospitals.

In most of the cities in this province, like Bostan, Hovazeh and Dasht Azadegan, the local people do not have any hospitals or specialist Doctor. In these cities, sick people frequently die needlessly during emergencies such as accidents or in childbirth.

In Ahwaz, the capital city of Khouzestan province, there are two kind of hospitals some are private, and the others are state-supported, free for people on low incomes. The latter hospitals are unhygienic, without sufficient Doctors or medicines and the death rates, are unacceptably high.

In the Iran-Iraq war, numerous people contracted the HIV virus through being injected with infected blood which came from other countries. This category of patients are living in hospitals without any facilities or medicines and the government doesn't disclose the death rates, so no bady knows the exact figure of patients who have been attacked by this virus.

The area is still very contaminated by chemicals from wartime chemical gases and diseases increasing in this area.

In the area of Women's Health, many women go through childbirth without specialist doctors and unnecessary deaths occur far too frequently. Few women are allowed by religious law to be attended by a male Doctor, and there are not enough female doctors.

Children's Departments are empty of any specialists and lack many essential medicines so that child mortality is common.

Throughout the province, the e sewerage system is very old and not up to the required standard. All sewerage is dumped into the main River Karoon which supplies all the Ahwaz Citys water. This has polluted the water and many diseases are caught through the water.
Ahwazi Arab journalists arrested

Ahwazi Arab journalists arrested

The Iranian regime has arrested a number of Ahwazi Arab journalists this week as part of its campaign of repression against Ahwazi Arabs.

According to Iran's ISNA news agency, "several journalists" have been arrested and "some have confessed to promoting ethnic division." ISNA quotes from the Iranian Ministry of Information.

The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) has been told by an Iranian human rights organisation that one of the arrested is Ahwazi journalist Mohammad-Hussein Falahieh. He is reportedly being subjected to serious physical and psychological torture in the notorious Section 209 of Evin Prison, which is run by the Intelligence Ministry.

Falahieh is 29 years old and is married with one child. He has served as chief editor of Aghlam-ol-Talaba newspaper and has also worked as a radio and television journalist, including work as a news presenter on the Iranian government's Al-Alam TV. He also worked for Dubai-based radio and television stations and had a regular newspaper column in leading Arabic newspapers in the Middle East. His last job was a Arabic/Farsi translator at the Algerian Embassy in Tehran.

BAFS believes that the Iranian regime is attempting to prevent reporting of crimes against humanity against the Ahwazi Arabs and is arresting all Ahwazi Arabs with any connection to the media as a precaution. There is no proof that any Ahwazi journalist is involved in stirring up ethnic unrest in Iran, apart from "confessions" extracted under torture. BAFS calls for the immediate release of all Ahwazi journalists.
Ahwazis mark international women's day

Ahwazis mark international women's day

London's Ahwazi Arab community marked International Women's Day today with an event that included talks and films on the experience of Ahwazi women under the Iranian regime.

The event was organised by the Ahwaz Community Association of the UK, which represents Ahwazi Arabs and organises community events and religious festivals.

An Ahwazi woman told the audience: "The International Women's Day is the story of the struggle of half of society to obtain equal rights with the other half. Women's history is about their desire to participate with men on an equal footing to build the community and fight against sexual discrimination alongside the fight against ethnic discrimination. This is what the Ahwazi woman suffers and she has not yet been rescued from discrimination.

"Although the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian women, she has made no mention of the suffering of Ahwazi Arabs in general and Ahwazi women struggle in particular. But despite this, Ahwazi women alone break social, economic and politics system's barriers which were put in their way by successive Iranian regimes on the one hand and customs and traditions on the other hand. This has meant that Ahwazi women are fighting on different fronts, which has exposed them to horrific levels of pressure.

"The international community should shoulder its responsibility towards Ahwazi and non-Persian women rights in Iran and should not remain indifferent, silent and ignorant about their oppression. They are subjected to racial and sexual discrimination under the Iranian regime due to its belief that women are second-class and that Ahwazi Arabs are second degree citizens. The international community should not be in collusion with this regime by focusing on the nuclear program while remaining silent on other human right violations, especially women's rights and the issues of non-Persian nations in Iran.

"Today is an opportunity to evaluate the role of Ahwazi women. It is also an opportunity to remember Ahwazi women right activists who sacrificed their lives, their sons, fathers and their husbands for struggle of our just cause."

Click here to download a leaflet on Ahwazi Arab women



Shia Democratic Alternative Seminar

Shia Democratic Alternative Seminar

The Henry Jackson Society welcomes applications to its Parliamentary discussion on 'The Shia Democratic Alternative: Challenging Iranian Clerical Rule to Bring Peace and Security to the Middle East' with special guest speakers Sheikh Mohammad Kazem Al-Khaqani (founder member of the campaign to forge commitment to democratic governance in the Shia world) and Adel Assadinia (former Iranian diplomat and Member of the Majlis).

The meeting will be chaired by Gisela Stuart MP. The meeting will introduce the concept of the Shia Democratic Alternative being pursued by Sheikh al-Khaqani and its potential to bring peace and security to the Middle East by undermining Iranian theocratic rule. Mr Assadinia will also be using his intimate knowledge of the Iranian regime to shed light on its activities in supporting extremist groups throughout the region and its hitherto unsuspected role in Dubai.

The meeting will be held on 20 March from 3pm at the House of Commons, London. Please contant Alan Mendoza, Executive Director of the Henry Jackson Society, at alan.mendoza@henryjacksonsociety.org