Human Rights Watch has called for the immediate release of six Ahwazi Arab refugees or "disclose a credible legal basis for detaining them" in a statement released today.
Click here for report
The human rights organisation has expressed concern that the men will be forcibly returned to Iran, where they are at risk of persecution. One of the men has already been sentenced to death in absentia.
The subjects of the appeal are:
- Afnan Azizi, 20, a civil engineering student in Damascus
- Ahmad Asadi, 28, a student of Arabic literature at the University of Damascus
- Ali Bouazar, 24, who fled to Syria after he was sentenced to death by a branch of Iran's Revolutionary court; he has been living in Syria since the end of December
- Jaber Ebayat, 19, a sociology student at the University of Damascus
- Kamal Naseri, 27, who had been living in Syria for eight months at the time of his arrest
- Salahuddin Helali Majd, 23, a science student at the University of Damascus
The six men were all arrested on 5 March (click here for details). Five of the six were all living in Syria legally and were all registered as refugees with the UNHCR. The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) understands that two of the men - Bouazar and Naseri - have already been forcibly returned to Iran. BAFS has also received reports that many UNHCR-registered refugees are now in hiding, with the UN agency failing to meet its obligation to ensure their safety.
"Last year Syria forcibly sent four refugees of Arab ethnicity back to Iran, where they are in prison and at risk of execution," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Syria must not return refugees to the risk of persecution or detain them without legal cause."
In December 2006, the UNHCR condemned the return of Ahwazi refugees forcibly returned to Iran (click here for report). BAFS has received reports that one of the refugees has been tortured so badly that he can no longer walk, he has lost all his teeth and his kidney and liver are damaged. (click here for report)
According to their friends and family, the six men left Iran out of fear that they would be persecuted as part of the Iranian government's crackdowns following a series of bombings in 2005 and 2006 in Ahwaz City, which caused the death of a number of civilians. Iran has executed at least 12 Ahwazi Arabs in connection with these bombings, and at least 13 others have received a death sentence. The trials have been condemned by human rights organisations, UN human rights experts and lawyers as deeply flawed.
Syrian human rights organizations that have been following the case and advocating for the release of the detainees told Human Rights Watch that they too have been unable to obtain information about the reasons for the arrests, the conditions of the detainees, or what the authorities plan to do with the six men.