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Relative Of Hanged Ahwazis Calls for International Prosecution Of Judges

A relative of two executed Ahwazi Arabs is calling on the international community to issue a warrant for the arrest of two Iranian judge...

"Ahwazi Arab women are third class citizens"

Speech by Ahwazi women's rights activist Elham al-Saedi at the Ahwaz human rights meeting in the UK's Houses of Parliament, 15 May 2013

Ahwazi Arab women suffer double persecution by the Iranian regime due to their ethnicity and gender. This operates in the areas of education, health, politics and social life. While Ahwazi Arab men are second-class citizens, Ahwazi women are third-class.

Illiteracy among Ahwazi Arab women is around 80 per cent, compared to around 50 per cent for Ahwazi men and 27% for Iran as a whole. Ahwazi women suffer health problems as a result of a lack of adequate health facilities. As a result, Ahwazi women suffer gynaecological problems and have a high incidence of infertility, stillbirths and birth deformities.

Ahwazi Arab women are also subjected to state terrorism. The wives of Ahwazi political and cultural activists are often arrested and imprisoned, along with their small children, in order to put pressure on their husbands to confess to crimes they did not commit. Women and children are held as hostages by the Iranian regime and often held for months without charge.

Some incarcerated Ahwazi women have been pregnant and have either miscarried or forced to give birth in prison without adequate medical assistance and in unsanitary conditions. An example is Fahima Ismail Badawi who gave birth to her daughter Salma in prison. She was held in custody as punishment for refusing to denounce her husband Ali Matouri Zadeh and divorce him. She refused and as a result is currently serving a 15 year prison sentence following a secretive trial by Branch 3 of Ahwaz Revolutionary Court. Her husband was tortured into confessing to being a British secret agent involved in terrorist attacks and was executed.

Officially, Ahwazi Arab women have the same legal rights as every other woman in Iran. However, Ahwazi women share same the same culture and social existence with women in neighbouring Arab countries.

In terms of their social and economic life, they endure a great deal of backwardness even in Iranian terms. We cannot blame only the discriminatory laws against women in Islamic republic regime as the cause of this problem. These laws are applied to both Ahwazi Arab women and women in central areas of Iran, although non-Persian women are subjected to more political repression. We cannot blame the ethnic tribal customs and traditions of Ahwazi Arabs people either. Women with same culture and social beliefs in neighbouring countries, for instance in Bahrain, have become advocates and judges. As such, ethnic customs are not the only cause of Ahwazi women’s oppression.

Non-Persian women suffer multiple discrimination in terms of criminal and common laws. Because they are less protected by law, they are subjected to more social crimes and violence, such as honour killing. Honour killings are more common in non-central, non-Persian areas and are justified by law and custom. Women are subjected to domestic violence, forced marriage – sometimes while they are still children and traded like objects as gifts between some tribes in economically backward areas. Arabistan leads all other regions in anti-women crimes due to backward cultural attitudes that are tolerated and encouraged by the regime.

Only through education and culture can Ahwazi women be free of persecution. But the Iranian state prevents any form of Arab cultural activity. All cultural modes, such as television and newspapers, are controlled by the state. The government wants to sustain traditional tribal systems of control to keep the Arab community in a backward state and prevent self-directed cultural improvement. Meanwhile, official positions that are supposed to cover women’s issues in the Arab-populated region – such as the chair of women’s affairs in the provincial governor’s office – have always been occupied by non-Arab, non-local women. They do not know the culture, customs and tradition of these people.

Ahwazi Arab women's problems and concerns are rooted in their community culture, customs and traditions and they are not going to be solved unless there are civil society organisations which originate in the heart of their culture. These civil organisations can play a major role in providing the best environment to work against discrimination against women.

Ahwazi Arab women are capable of social activism, as seen in their participation in political activities during the short reformist reign of President Khatami which to some extent was politically tolerant. During this time, Ahwazi Arab women won three out of nine seats in the Arab-majority city of Showra. But in the current situation, with the regime imposing discriminatory practices against ethnic nationals, women will be the most disadvantaged people. As such, it is no surprise that Ahwazi Arab women are absent from social and political life.

The freedom of all Ahwazi Arabs depends on the freedom of the female half of the population. Women’s rights should be central to the Ahwazi struggle. 

"Destruction of Ahwaz's marshes is like the destruction of the Amazon"

A speech by Ahwazi environmental activist Haifa Assadi, at the Ahwaz human rights meeting in the UK's Houses of Parliament, 15 May 2013

The Ahwaz region faces an environmental catastrophe on a par with the destruction of the Amazon rainforests. River diversion and the draining of the marshes are turning a once fertile land into desert while industrial pollution has made Ahwaz City the most polluted place on Earth, according to the World Health Organisation. As well as destroying the unique ecology of the region, the effects have been devastating for the indigenous Ahwazi Arab population.

Over centuries, the climate and environment of Ahwaz have depended on the rivers flowing through the region. The Karoon, Karkheh, Dez and Jarrahi rivers play an important role in the conservation of the marshlands of Falahiyeh and Hawr-Alazim. The life of the Arab farmers depends on the rivers’ water. Moreover, rivers prevent the salt water of the Gulf flowing up the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

However, the Iranian regime has been actively engaged in plans with the most destructive impacts on the ecological balance of the region and desertification of the once green fields of Ahwaz. One of these plans is the transferring of water to the central provinces of Iran through diversion of the rivers. This is done regardless of the region’s minimum water requirements.

Several dams and diversion tunnels have been built for this purpose of diverting water from the Karoon river to the already dry Zayanderood river of Isfahan. A total of 69 dams have been built or are under construction.

At the same time, the Iranian regime has been investing on the development of the environmentally destructive sugarcane plantations, created on 250,000 hectares of fertile farmland confiscated from Arab farmers.

The destructive environmental impact of these projects is the salty wastewater that turns the green fields of Ahwaz further downstream into barren lands. At the same time, fresh water from the Zagros mountains is being replaced by wastewater from the western cities of the country, contributing to the environmental crisis. The date plantations that traditionally sustained the livelihoods of thousands of Arab farmers are now dying. Moreover, the saline wastewater stored in a large area around the city of Muhammara for evaporation has left hills of salt there to become a great threat to the health of the Arab people of Ahwaz.

Due to the excessive pollution of the rivers the amount of total dissolved solids in the water has greatly increased. In the border cities of Abadan and Muhammara, it has reached four times the maximum level for potable water.

Another important factor in the aridification of the region is the deliberate evaporation of the Hawr Al-Azim marsh. This is being done on a par with Saddam’s destruction of the Iraqi marshes.

Hawr Al-Azim marsh has a very important role in maintaining the ecological balance in the Middle East. It has been completely destroyed and dried out due to the activities of oil companies. According to Ali Mohammad Shaeri, the vice president of the Iranian environment organization, "500 thousand hectares of marshlands of Ahwaz have dried out and this is the main cause of sand storms in the region." The sand storms are the result of a decline in humidity throughout the whole region. As a result, the Pollutant Standards Index – or PSI – of the air quality in Ahwaz region has passed 600 units. This is while according to the international standards a PSI over 300 units is critically hazardous.

The destruction of Hawr Al-Azim has forced people from more than forty villages to abandon their homes and move to city slums. In Ahwaz City alone there are more than 400,000 Arabs living in slums, suffering difficult health and social conditions.

The environmental crisis in Ahwaz has several negative effects on the health of the indigenous Arab people. In recent years, respiratory and lung diseases have become very common as a result of high air pollution, leading to many deaths. Water pollution has resulted in skyrocketing digestive and Kidney diseases.

Because of the discriminatory policies of the Iranian regime against the indigenous Arab people of Ahwaz, they are deprived of the right to manage their own affairs. The crucial managing positions are assigned to non-native people coming from other provinces. These assigned officials do not consider the right of the native people of Ahwaz in the water resources of the region and the resources are expropriated to the advantage of the central provinces. The Iranian regime has no intention of stopping or even considering stopping these plans. Instead, new projects for dam construction and water diversion are being proposed and destructive industries – which do not employ local people – are contributing ever higher amounts of toxic pollution.

"Discrimination against Arabs in Iran is institutionalised"

A speech by Yousef Azizi Bani Torouf, General Secretary of the Center for Combating Racism and Discrimination against Arabs in Iran at the Ahwaz human rights meeting in the UK's Houses of Parliament, 15 May 2013

The Arabs of southwest Iran once enjoyed a complete and absolute autonomy that Persians called their region Arabistan in recognition of its Arabic identity.

After the overthrow of  Sheikh Khaza’al - last Arab ruler of Arabistan - by king Reza Shah , the Ahwazi Arab people lost their self government and power in 1925. From this date onwards, this people have suffered national oppression, that is a box containing political, economic, cultural, lingual and racial discrimination. I will briefly discuss this issue.

The region fell victim to political centralisation and the Pahlavi dynasty’s racist nationalism. Since then, the Arabs have suffered persecution at the hands of successive regimes. Even place names have been Persianised. Arabistan is now officially known as Khuzestan to eliminate its Arab identity.

With Persianisation has come hardship and misery. Discrimination is seen on a daily basis in Iranian literature and among Iranian elites and intellectuals, spread through media and books. All cultural expression is controlled and repressed by the state. Arabic music, customs, theatre, books and newspapers are banned or semi banned. The non-Arab minority in the region have 100% control of the press, which avoids Arab issues. Even activists who study Arab history privately are persecuted, such as the scholar Ghazi Heidari who was sentenced to over 10 years imprisonment.

Discrimination is institutionalised with less than 20% of top positions in the Arab-majority province going to Arabs with the rest going to outsiders. The region also has the highest rate of executions in Iran. Karoon Prison, where political prisoners are held, is the worst in Iran, especially after the Arab Spring. Ahwaz is the most polluted city in the world, as the UN has said.

Economically, Ahwazis endure poverty on a par with Africa. The situation is so bad that Iranian media have called it “black poverty”. Poverty in the cities of Arabistan is along racial lines. Around 70% of the population in the cities are impoverished indigenous Arabs and the rest are wealthier non-Arabs.

Unemployment is recognized as a serious problem among Arabs in the province due to refusal to employ local people in industry. The lack of employment opportunities caused by discrimination has fuelled unrest among Arab youths. Those in employment struggle with consistent non-payment of salaries and repression of trade unions, which prevents them from organizing collectively.

Arabs endure poor educational attainment. Illiteracy is very high particularly among women. This is due to lack of instruction in Arabic, as mother language, and a high school drop-out rate. Farsi is non – native language for Arab students and so 33% leave at primary school level, 50% by secondary school level and 70% by high school level. The government has even shut down private Koran classes to teach people Arabic.

Health statistics show that as a result of poverty caused by discrimination, Arabs are suffering malnutrition and low life expectancy. The Deputy Mayor of Ahwaz City has claimed that 20% of deaths in the past two years are among children. The municipality has not announced the specific cause of high infant mortality rates in the region. Previous surveys have indicated that malnutrition affects around 50 per cent of children in Arab populated districts. Few years ago official Jomi Islami daily announced that 80 percent of Dasht-e-Azadegan city or Benitorof and Howiza are suffering  from malnutrition.

Discrimination against Arabs in employment and housing is becoming a major political issue in the Arabistan region and is fuelling political revolt. In the presidential election campaign, the issue of anti-Arab discrimination is often raised for electoral purposes or by factions within the regime, who seek to manipulate a desperate population while ensuring they do not have a voice of their own. This happens when people live on the sea of ​​oil or 80 percent of Iran's revenue comes from this region

However, attempts by the region’s members of parliament to send just 1.5 per cent of oil revenues back to the area to fight social deprivation have been opposed by the government. Meanwhile, the Iranian regime is continuing its policy of “ethnic restructuring” to make Ahwazi Arabs a minority in their homeland Arabistan (formally Khuzestan) with dozens of settlements planned on confiscated land.

The international community should extend a hand of solidarity towards the persecuted Arabs of Iran and specially in UK the parliament and other NGO organizations who could play an active rule in this field.,

"Executions of Ahwazi political prisoners are routine"

A speech by Ibrahim al-Arabi, chairman of the European Ahwazi Human Rights Organisationat the Ahwaz human rights meeting in the UK's Houses of Parliament, 15 May 2013

The violent campaign of persecution by the Iranian regime is now widely recognised. The non-Persian ethnic communities are regularly targeted for demanding their rights. Occasionally members of these communities and their family members fall victim to the vengeance of authorities.

Executions of arrested Arab protesters and cultural activists are routinely carried out. Ahwazi Arab political prisoners are highly vulnerable to torture and rape by interrogators and extra-judicial killings. Ahwaz City hosts some of the most notorious prisons in Iran, a country renowned for torture and extra-judicial killings. Secret security centres are used to extract false confessions. Most ethnic Arab political prisoners are imprisoned for demanding their cultural, linguistic, civil and human rights. They are tried in secret revolutionary courts without access to defence lawyers. Often they are sentenced to death by hanging.

Many political prisoners are forced to give televised confessions following months of torture inside the Ahwaz secret detention facility run by the Ministry of Intelligence. Some of these confessions have been broadcast on Press TV, a subsidiary of state-owned broadcaster IRIB that has now been taken off-fair in the UK by British regulatory authorities. The confessions included alleged “mind termination” techniques used by Western powers, Israel and Ahwazi opposition groups to turn people into unthinking killers. They have also confessed to receiving assistance from Hosni Mubarak and Muammer al-Qadafi, claims that are unproven, unfounded and far-fetched. Ahwazi political prisoners are sentenced to death following convictions for “enmity with god” and “sowing corruption on the earth”, which are common charges against those who oppose the Iranian regime.

In June last year, four Ahwazi Arab men from Ahwaz City’s Malashieh neighbourhood - Taha Heidarian, Abbas Heidarian and Abdul-Rahman Heidarian and Ali Naami Sharifi - were executed at Karoon Prison in Ahwaz. They were all arrested in April 2011 following anti-government protests by Arabs.

Nine Ahwazi Arab political prisoners are currently on death row. Five have had their death sentences upheld by the Supreme Court, which means they could be executed at any moment. Three of these are high school teachers. They are all members of the cultural group Al-Hewar, which sought to teach Arab youths Arabic language and culture. The Ministry of the Interior refused permission for the organisation and instead persecuted its members. Leading member Mohammad Ali Amoori fled to Iraq in 2007 where he was imprisoned for five years for illegal entry. In spite of winning UNHCR refugee status, he was illegally repatriated to Iran in early 2011, arrested and now faces execution. All five have faced extreme torture, including broken bones, and some are suffering mental health problems as a result. Four more Ahwazi Arab political prisoners are facing execution following verdicts handed down by secretive revolutionary courts in September 2012 with three more given prison sentences.

Extrajudicial killings of Ahwazi Arabs are at least as frequent as official executions of political prisoners. The bodies of many Ahwazi activists who have "disappeared" have been washed up in the Karoon. Last July, a 12 year old girl called Lilla Ghasan Hamid Obaidawi was killed and four members of her family were injured after security forces opened fire with live ammunition during raids on their village. A 15-year-old Ahwazi Arab boy, Morteza Al-Soweidi, was shot down during a demonstration against the actions of security services in April. Al-Soweidi was killed by Colonel Chabok Sawar as he joined local people in protesting against the destruction of Arab houses in the area where he lived with his family. In April 2013, political activist Sayed Lafteh Mosavi was killed under torture while detained by the intelligence services. He had been arrested some months before and held without charge.

Eight others were killed while in detention in 2012, including:
  • 47 year old Jamil Sowaidi who was killed under interrogation in November while detained without charge;
  • Abbas Sawari who was arrested from his home in April and found dead in the Karoon river in September;
  • 37 year old Alireza Ghobaishawi who was killed in detention in August
  • 19 year old Nasser Alboshokeh, who was arrested in January 2012 and died days later following extensive torture
  • 21 year old Mohammad Kaabi, arrested in late January 2012 and died under torture two weeks later
  • Ghaiban Obaidawi from Hamidiyah
  • Mohammad Cheldawi from Ahwaz
  • Reza Maghamesi from Dezful.

It is clear that the slaughter of Ahwazis is linked to their cultural persecution. We believe this state terrorism should be highlighted and condemned as crimes against humanity. We support the use of sanctions against all judges, security personnel, state-employed journalists and politicians who collude in this ethnic oppression.

Conservatives rally behind Ahwazi Arabs in British Parliament

British parliamentarians and the media got to hear the Ahwazi Arab voice at a packed meeting in Palace of Westminster today.

Robert Buckland MP
The event was hosted by the Conservative Human Rights Commission (CHRC) in association with the International Society for Human Rights to launch the Ahwaz Human Rights Report 2013, published by the Ahwazi Arab Solidarity Network. Ahwazi activists spoke out against Iran's persecution, campaign of execution, use of torture, the denial of women's rights and environmental destruction of the Ahwazi Arab homeland.

CHRC chair Robert Buckland MP remarked that Iran's treatment of Ahwazi Arabs was "one of the worst examples of human rights abuse in the world." He added: "Discrimination against the Ahwazi community has to be stopped. Iran has to take its place as a free and fair nation and show some justice to its own people. It's a simple message. It's one that resonates well and clearly in this parliament."

Dr Wafik Moustafa, president of the Conservative Arab Network, pointed out the international ignorance of the Ahwazi Arab people, who were suffering extreme persecution and deprivation.

Ahwazi Arab writer and former political prisoner Yousef Azizi Bani Torouf spoke of the suffering of ethnic Arabs since the Pahlavi dynasty was founded in 1925 and continued by the Islamic Republic. He said: "With Persianisation has come hardship and misery. Discrimination is seen on a daily basis in Iranian literature and among Iranian elites and intellectuals, spread through media and books. All cultural expression is controlled and repressed by the state.
Yousef Azizi Bani Torouf

"Discrimination is institutionalised with less than 20% of top positions in the Arab-majority province going to Arabs with the rest going to outsiders. Economically, Ahwazis endure poverty on a par with Africa.

"Poverty in the cities of Arabistan is along racial lines. Around 70% of the population in the cities are impoverished indigenous Arabs and the rest are wealthier non-Arabs.

"Arabs endure poor educational attainment. Illiteracy is very high particularly among women. This is due to lack of instruction in Arabic, as mother language, and a high school drop-out rate. Health statistics show that as a result of poverty caused by discrimination, Arabs are suffering malnutrition and low life expectancy."

Ibrahim al-Arabi
Ibrahim al-Arabi, chair of the European Ahwazi Human Rights Organisation, spoke on the violent reaction of the Iranian authorities towards those who speak out for their cultural rights, including vengeance against members of the families of activists.

Pointing out the example of five Ahwazi cultural activists facing imminent execution, he said: "Executions of arrested Arab protesters and cultural activists are routinely carried out. Ahwazi Arab political prisoners are highly vulnerable to torture and rape by interrogators and extra-judicial killings. Ahwaz City hosts some of the most notorious prisons in Iran, a country renowned for torture and extra-judicial killings.

"Extrajudicial killings of Ahwazi Arabs are at least as frequent as official executions of political prisoners. The bodies of many Ahwazi activists who have "disappeared" have been washed up in the Karoon.

"It is clear that the slaughter of Ahwazis is linked to their cultural persecution. We believe this state terrorism should be highlighted and condemned as crimes against humanity. We support the use of sanctions against all judges, security personnel, state-employed journalists and politicians who collude in this ethnic oppression."

Haifa Assadi
Ahwazi environmental activist Haifa Assadi, an executive member of the Council of Human Rights Defenders without Borders, detailed the environmental destruction of the Ahwazi Arab homeland, which stated was on a scale of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. She said: "River diversion and the draining of the marshes are turning a once fertile land into desert while industrial pollution has made Ahwaz City the most polluted place on Earth, according to the World Health Organisation. As well as destroying the unique ecology of the region, the effects have been devastating for the indigenous Ahwazi Arab population.

"The regime is engaged in the aridification of the region is the deliberate evaporation of the Hawr Al-Azim marsh. This is being done on a par with Saddam’s destruction of the Iraqi marshes. The destruction of Hawr Al-Azim has forced people from more than forty villages to abandon their homes and move to city slums.

"The Iranian regime has no intention of stopping or even considering stopping these plans. Instead, new projects for dam construction and water diversion are being proposed and destructive industries – which do not employ local people – are contributing ever higher amounts of toxic pollution."

Ahwazi women's rights activist Elham Saedi examined Ahwazi Arab women's "double persecution by the Iranian regime due to their ethnicity and gender. This operates in the areas of education, health, politics and social life. While Ahwazi Arab men are second-class citizens, Ahwazi women are third-class."

Elham Saedi
She stated that "The freedom of all Ahwazi Arabs depends on the freedom of the female half of the population. Women’s rights should be central to the Ahwazi struggle."

Ahwazi Arab women are paying a huge price for Arab civil unrest in Iran, she said. "The wives of Ahwazi political and cultural activists are often arrested and imprisoned, along with their small children, in order to put pressure on their husbands to confess to crimes they did not commit. Some incarcerated Ahwazi women have been pregnant and have either miscarried or forced to give birth in prison without adequate medical assistance and in unsanitary conditions."

Cultural attitudes and the failure to empower women are the result of discriminatory practices by the regime, said Ms Saedi. "Non-Persian women suffer multiple discrimination in terms of criminal and common laws. Because they are less protected by law, they are subjected to more social crimes and violence, such as honour killing. Arabistan leads all other regions in anti-women crimes due to backward cultural attitudes that are tolerated and encouraged by the regime.

"Ahwazi Arab women's problems and concerns are rooted in their community culture, customs and traditions and they are not going to be solved unless there are civil society organisations which originate in the heart of their culture. These civil organisations can play a major role in providing the best environment to work against discrimination against women."

Mr Buckland concluded the meeting by describing Iran's persecution of Ahwazi Arabs as "a concerted attempt to prevent a whole section of Iranian society to make progress, to achieve their ambitions and live their dreams.

"People want change and want change urgently for the sake of those thousands of people living in these conditions without basic freedoms."


Dr Moustafa interviewed by an Arabic news broadcaster
He praised Foreign Secretary William Hague's vocal support for Ahwazi political prisoners suffering torture and execution: "I welcome the robust attitude of the British government towards Iran's violations of human rights against the Ahwazi Arabs. I was particularly encouraged by the Foreign Secretary who made a public condemnation of the execution of the Malashieh Four last year."

Drawing attention to current events, Mr Buckland said: "We are coming up to a time of important presidential elections in Iran next month. It's a worrying time because we know that very often the electoral process is associated with more crackdowns.

"I very much hope that this period of 2013 when the eyes of the world will be on Iran will be an opportunity to do everything we can to highlight the predicament of the Ahwazi Arabs and to do our bit to make sure that in the years to come we will be meeting in rooms like this perhaps celebrating the freedom of those millions of people who live under such oppression.

"It's only a dream at the moment, but I believe that meetings like this will have an effect and one day that change will come."

"Bouazizi of Ahwaz" dies of burns injuries

An Ahwazi Arab man who set himself alight inside the offices of the provincial Governor in Ahwaz on April 16 in a protest against unemployment died of his injuries on 30 May, reports the Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation.

Ahwazi Arab martyr Mahdi Hadi Mojadam (32) died following two weeks of agony in an intensive care unit. Following the example of the Tunisian martyr Mohammad Bouazizi, he waited for the Governor to leave his office and dowsed himself in petrol before setting himself alight. Security guards intervened immediately to put out the fire and took him to the nearby Taleghani hospital.

Mojadam lived in Char-sad-dastgah in Sepidar, one of the most deprived areas of Ahwaz City. His family was been threatened by the authorities not to disclose the news and his hospital room is under the control of the security services. The authorities fear that news coverage of his self-immolation could prompt civil unrest ahead of the presidential elections.

Self-immolation is a non-violent method of resistance that has been increasingly used by Tibetans resisting Chinese occupation; over 100 Tibetans have set themselves alight and 40 have died as a result since 2009. Mojadam is the fifteenth reported self-immolation in connection with the Arab Spring uprisings.