Iran's execution campaign against Ahwazi Arabs
International condemnation of Iran’s treatment of its persecuted and impoverished Ahwazi Arab minority is growing as the government continues its campaign of execution against Ahwazi dissidents.
The European Parliament, Nobel Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi and leading international human rights organisations have voiced increasing alarm at the number of death sentences imposed and carried out by the government in recent weeks. Last month four Ahwazi political prisoners were executed for “enmity with God” and “sowing corruption on the Earth”. This following trials widely condemned as flawed. Five more have been sentenced to death in recent days. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Intelligence tortured two young Ahwazis to death just days after they were arrested. Their crime was daubing graffiti calling for an election boycott in Arab neighbourhoods.
Shortly before their execution in June, three brothers - Taha Heidarian, Abbas Heidarian and Abdul-Rahman Heidarian and the friend Ali Sharifi secretly filmed an appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran Ahmed Shaheed calling for his intervention to halt the campaign. They vehemently denied the murder charges against them and detailed three months of torture, sometimes in the presence of the public prosecutor, in which they finally agreed to sign false confessions. They also voiced their opposition to terrorism and violence, saying their only interest was to protest against the persecution of their community.
Five others condemned to death following trials condemned as deeply unfair are Hadi Rashedi, Hashem Shabani, and Mohammad-Ali Amouri and two brothers Seyed Mokhtar Alboshokeh and Seyed Jaber Alboshokeh.
According to Human Rights Watch, the five were arrested by security forces in February 2011. They have all been found guilty of being linked to a terrorist organisation and involvement in shootings that authorities say occurred in and around the town of Khalafabad in Khuzestan province in 2010. However, UNHCR mandated refugee Muhammad Ali Amoori had been in prison in Iraq from 2007 until he was illegally repatriated in early 2011. He had fled Iran after the reformist group to which he belonged, the Lejnat al-Wefaq, had been banned after it won control of Ahwaz City Council and secured a seat in parliament. Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Directed Sarah Leah Whitson stated that there was no evidence presented against the men and no transparency in the conviction and sentencing. Human rights groups such as Justice for Iran are now calling for Iranian officials involved in the persecution of the country's Arab minority to be subject to international sanctions.
Iran fears the upsurge in Ahwazi unrest in its oil-rich and strategically important Khuzestan province, located in the southwest bordering Iraq. Attacks on pipelines by Ahwazi militant groups have shaken a regime that is desperate to sustain oil exports amid increasing isolation. It has claimed, without proof, that Ahwazis are supported by an array of Arab and Western governments as well as Israel, Al-Qaeda and international oil producers. The root cause of the unrest, according to human rights groups, is long-standing political marginalisation, social discrimination and high levels of poverty. With poverty rates exceeding 50% and deaths through child malnutrition accounting for a fifth of all deaths over the past two years, the Ahwazi Arab population’s impoverishment is in stark contrast to the wealth of Iran’s Arab neighbours. Yet traditional Ahwazi Arab lands account for 90% of Iran’s oil revenues and 10% of OPEC output – more than Kuwait and the UAE combined. The fall of the Assad regime would further encourage Ahwazis to confront the Iranian government over long-standing grievances. In this context, the execution campaign is a desperate attempt to silence Ahwazi dissent.