"Western governments say they support democracy in the Middle East, but none have given any support either in word or deed to the Ahwazi people in their struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights," said British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) activist and researcher, Ali Bani Torfi, at a hearing on Iran by the Conservative Human Rights Commission.
The hearing also took evidence from representatives of Kurdish and Bahai human rights organisations as well as Amnesty International. The Commission was established in 2005 by the Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague and is chaired by Stephen Crabb MP. It also includes several Members of Parliament, some of whom were present to hear evidence from BAFS on the persecution of Ahwazi Arabs, whose homeland has been occupied and ruled from Tehran since 1925.
In his address, Mr Bani Torfi compared the treatment of Ahwazi Arabs to apartheid in South Africa, with segregation in housing, employment and education enforced by extreme state violence. He said: "Successive Iranian regimes have denied Ahwazi rights as a people and have tried to ignore the existence of the Ahwazi Arab nation, calling them 'Arab-speakers' rather than Arabs denying their ethnicity due to their policy of Persianisation. This policy has involved government confiscation of Arab-owned land and 'ethnic restructuring', which typically involves the forced migration of Arabs out of Al-Ahwaz and their replacement with 'loyal' ethnic groups, particularly ethnic Persians.
"While UN agencies and leading human rights groups have catalogued the large number atrocities against the Ahwazi people – ranging from the land confiscation programme to the illegal killings and the incarceration of children – not a single democratic government has lifted a finger to address the issue of Ahwazi rights ... It is time for a change in attitudes. It is time to listen to the voice of the Ahwazis."