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Iran's anti-Arab ethnic and religious repression during Ramadan

Zergan, a deprived Arab neighbourhood in Ahwaz City
The Iranian authorities have continued their campaign of detentions in Al-Ahwaz amid a crackdown that has seen the arrest of dozens of indigenous Arabs during Ramadan.

On 5 August, Iranian security forces detained 11 Arabs in Zergan district in the northeast of Ahwaz City, according to the Ahwazi Democratic Popular Front, an Arab party campaigning for independence. The ADPF claims that increased repression has occurred in Zergan and neighbouring Zewie and Airport districts in response to a leafleting campaign against the Iranian occupation. However, it states that the arrests have been random and involved the detention of male members of entire families.

The detainees from Zergan are:
  • Brothers Said Sabea Alinewer Zargani and Hamid Sabea Alinewer Zargani
  • Brothers Abbas Owaid Abdalsadh Zargani and Hakem Owaid Abdalsadh Zargani
  • Brothers Ali Jalil Mullah Ashfak Zargani, Mohammed Jalil Mullah Ashfak Zargani and Hussain Jalil Mullah Ashfak Zargani
  • Abdel-Moneim Ali Hanita Zargani
  • Mansour Hussein Alhusejer Zargani
  • Mohammed Aboud Alabdelall Zargani
  • Tawfiq Mazraawi
The 5 August arrests came a week after another round up of Arabs in Zergan district, including Bagher Gholami (Naami), Abu Ehagh, Hamid Sabea (Abu Mustafa), Hakem Eawayed (Abu Safa), Sabah Sharbaz (Abu Nasser) and Mansour Askari (Abu Ali). Arrests have also been carried out in Eabodeh village in the suburbs of Ahwaz City where 15 were arrested on charges of conversion to Sunnism, which can lead to lengthy prison terms. Homes were also raided in Mowailhah village, Bawi county, and 13 youths were arrested. There were also arrests reported in Shaiban. A 12 year old Ahwazi Arab girl was killed and four members of her family were severely injured after Iranian security forces opened fire during raids on their village of Sariya in Khafajiya (Susangerd) on July 21.

Director of the Ahwazi Arab Solidarity Network Daniel Brett said: "State repression has been particularly harsh this Ramadan and coincides with an execution campaign against Ahwazi Arabs that has provoked civil unrest.

"Tensions are running high and the regime is using any excuse to stamp out any perceived potential challenge to its authority, regardless of how peaceful that challenge is. This includes the confiscation of satellite dishes to prevent Arabs watching Ramadan serials on television channels broadcast from Sunni Arab countries.

"Many Ahwazi Arabs see religious conversion as a political act of rejection of the theocratic government as well as growing identification with the Arab cultures of the Arabian Gulf.

"The Shia theocracy also fears the impact of vocal solidarity with the Ahwazi Arab cause by the Free Syria Army, which is challenging Iran's allied Allawite-led regime in Damascus.

"However, underlying the unrest is material deprivation. For example, discontent is rising in the village of Sariya, a focus of violent repression, where traditional agricultural activities such as water buffalo rearing are under threat due to severe drought and low water levels in the Karkhe river. This is related to the Iranian regime's controversial water diversion programme which is seeing the river's waters siphoned off upstream to feed cash crop production, such as sugar cane, which generates revenue for the political elites.

"Suburban areas of Zergan are also witnessing a growth in slum buildings and residents are increasingly restive over the rising cost of basic necessities, especially staple foods. The collapse in the output of grains in the province, traditionally Iran's second biggest wheat producer, due to government mismanagement has exacerbated matters."