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Call to Obama: Don't sideline Iran's minorities

By Nasser Bani Assad

The British Ahwazi Friendship Society welcomes the freeing of US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi.

International pressure proved effecting in freeing Saberi, in particular US pressure. However, it should be noted that Iran is using carrots and sticks with Washington.

It is clear that Iran has no just, fair or independent judicial system. The system is manipulated by political interests. Saberi's release shows that the Iranian government makes baseless allegations against people and puts people behind bars unlawfully.

Non-Persians are targeted the most by the oppressive regime, according to news reports from Iran. The US government must consider Saberi's case being bound up with the political conflict between Iran and US. But there are are thousands of Iranian detainees, many of them from non-Persian nationalities, who have been falsely accused, imprisoned, tortured and executed due to allegations of spying for the US. Iran claims that all and any non-Persian activists are US-sponsored separatists, even when they do not advocate secession. We therefore demand that President Barack Obama raise the importance of human rights in Iran.

I was watching Voice of America Persian. They have been covering the Saberi case a lot, but have forgotten the ethnic dimension. The Iran media is talking about it, but VoA Persian is dismissing it.

Almost all the major candidates making very strong speeches and promises to consider the minorities rights issue more seriously. But it is only Mehdi Karobi who issued his fourth written statement in support of religious and ethnic minority rights. He named his plan as 'rehabilitating the ethnic and religious rights'. He is highlighting all the unimplemented Iranian constitution articles, specifically articles 3, 12, 13, 15, 19, 26, 41, 44 and 48. He says he will empower the local governments and improves the ethnic rights. This call has prompted more than 300 Ahwazi Arab intellectuals to write in support of Karobi.

This might be the reason why 300 Ahwazi Arab intellectuals wrote in support of Karobi and abandoned 'reformist' presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. They included former Ahwaz member of parliament Jasem Shadid-Zadeh, whose reformist-aligned Arab rights party, Lejnat al-Wefaq, was barred from contesting elections and eventually banned altogether as a supposedly US-backed separatist group. Shadid-zadeh said: "Mr Karobi announced his humanitarian and democratic position of supporting citizen rights, as much as he could and this is because of non-democratic decision making system and also non-existence of civil societies in Iran."

It seems that even Iranian politicians are taking up the minorities issue, aware of its importance, while President Barack Obama is ignoring minority rights, despite many activists being locked up like Ms Saberi on trumped-up charges of espionage. It is time for the world to act and take notice of Iranian minorities and the importance they have in determining the outcome of the election by defending imprisoned activists in the same way as Ms Saberi was defended and eventually released.