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Iran: Situation in Ahwaz 'worse than Tehran'

Ahwaz City is in turmoil with 'many, many dead' at the hands of police and the Bassij, supported by the Lebanese Hezbollah, according to numerous independent eye-witness accounts received by the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS).

Security forces have imposed martial law on the city and have targetted the district of Hay Al-Thawra, which has been a hotbed of ethnic Arab unrest against the regime in recent years. Residents claim that they are living under curfew unable to leave their homes while security forces are opening fire with live rounds on any gathering. Ethnic Arab residents claim that foreign Arabs with Lebanese accents, probably from the Lebanese Hezbollah, are being organised into death squads co-ordinated by the paramilitary Bassij and official vigilante groups. Lebanon's Hezbollah uses Qods Force bases in the province as training grounds.

President Ahmadinejad was given a clear lead in Khuzestan province, according to the controversial official election results. The results were a surprise as most expected a strong vote for Mehdi Karroubi among the local Arab population. He had topped the poll in the province in 2005 with his message of ethnic rights winning support among the Ahwazi Arabs, who are subjected to discrimination and high levels of deprivation.

"The lack of foreign media in Ahwaz means that the Iranian regime believes it is acting with impunity," said BAFS spokesman Nasser Bani Assad. "Ahwaz and Isfahan are the two cities outside Tehran that are seeing the largest popular uprisings and the most brutal response by the state terror machine, but lines of communication with these cities are very limited. The number of deaths is unknown, but reports suggest they are in double figures. Hundreds have been arrested. Even when the unrest has died down, we expect the arrests to continue.

"In the past, any unrest in Ahwaz is always followed by a wave of summary and judicial executions. Sometimes bodies of those who have 'disappeared' have been found in the river Karoun with marks of severe torture.

"This is likely to happen again unless the United Nations takes action immediately and, at the very least, sends human rights observers to Ahwaz. We call on the world's democracies to take action to ensure that human rights are protected throughout Iran and not to focus just on Tehran. We call for full sanctions on all foreign groups and their political affiliates who are suspected of involvement in state terror in Iran."