Iran’s security forces reportedly killed another young Ahwazi man on 30 December 2018, with regime gunmen fatally shooting 19-year-old Mehdi Sawari as he returned to his family’s home in the impoverished Seyed Karim neighbourhood of the regional capital Ahwaz from the city of Hamidieh. Although he was rushed to a hospital, he died soon afterwards.
According to his family, Mehdi was killed apparently by regime military personnel who followed his motorcycle in their vehicle as he returned home and shot him at close range. His grieving parents revealed that he was killed whilst returning home after fleeing his compulsory military service with the regime army at a garrison in Hamidieh. He had told them previously that he had complained at abuse and mistreatment by superior officers after they repeatedly rejected his requests for time off to visit his family and refused to allow him to attend a Quran recitation contest in which he was scheduled to participate, despite his giving them advance notice.
The simmering tensions and resentment at this and other mistreatments apparently later came to a head during an argument with senior officers at the garrison, with the young man then phoning his family to tell them about this altercation, as well as telling them that he had been beaten by the officers. His parents said that he was angry and upset at this humiliation and abuse and that he told them he was going to abandon his post and return home by renting a motorbike. When he did so, according to eyewitnesses, a large number of military vehicles pursued him, and he did not stop, being fearful of their reactions, so they shot him at close range.
Mehdi was a popular and talented young footballer who had played with a number of local youth teams. His teammates honoured his passing by printing new team t-shirts bearing his photo on the front, which they were pictured wearing on social media. Like most Ahwazis, Mehdi came from a desperately poor background, but never lost his zest for life or his infectious enthusiasm for sports.
Despite the Iranian regime’s ceaseless efforts to represent itself as a supporter of oppressed peoples, principally Palestinians, anyone who looks beyond the headlines and reads about the regime’s domestic or regional policies will realise that the “resistance” regime is, in fact, one of the most brutally oppressive on earth. Amongst its main victims domestically are Ahwazis, who are subjected to systemic persecution for their Arab ethnicity, as well as being indiscriminately targeted by regime forces or arbitrarily detained on the flimsiest of pretexts; any protest at this state-sponsored injustice results almost automatically in arrest, imprisonment and too often in execution.
Mehdi’s murder is just the latest of countless extrajudicial killings of young Ahwazis by the government forces; this routine persecution and lethal violence is an integral part of Ahwazis’ lives, infiltrating every aspect of the people’s existence and embedding a pervasive sense of outrage, despair and hopelessness; this is an entirely deliberate government strategy, a form of psychological terror intended to lead the people to abandon any form of resistance and accept persecution and cruel injustice as the ‘norm’. Any protest or dissent is automatically depicted as terrorism, bringing additional restrictions and oppression on top of the usual persecution and abuse. As a result, many young Ahwazis feel there is no hope of securing the most basic human rights, viewing this state of apartheid as the despised norm.
This persecution extends into every area of Ahwazis’ lives; theft of lands and demolition of homes, often with only a few minutes’ warning for residents, including whole families, is routine; any complaint will see the complainant rather than the perpetrators arrested. The regime has also seized massive farmland areas, many of which quickly turn into barren deserts due to the government’s incompetence and indifference to irrigation and basic agricultural practices. Again, there is no legal recourse for those dispossessed.
The regime has also destroyed countless invaluable historic monuments, buildings and artefacts, which counter its own historical revisionist narrative in which the Ahwazis have no history in the region. The regime, which is fond of giving speeches on settler colonialism and the construction of illegal settlements on lands belonging to the indigenous peoples in different parts of the world, does the exact same thing to Ahwazis, building ‘Iranian-only’ settlements for settlers from other regions of Iran, provided with amenities denied to the Ahwazis who live in abject poverty, despite the fact that Ahwaz, which contains over 95 per cent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran, is the primary source of the regime’s wealth.
These settlers are given all the management jobs in the local oil and gas fields and in associated petrochemical industry facilities; the local Ahwazi people are denied these jobs and allowed only the low-paid, unskilled positions.
Despite this litany of crimes which have continued non-stop since the regime came to power in 1979, European countries continue racing one another to do lucrative deals with the regime, even while their leaders make unconvincing speeches about supporting universal freedom and human rights. These governments, including Britain, whose historic empire helped the then Iranian ruler Reza Pahlavi to annex Ahwaz in 1925; despite almost a century having elapsed since that terrible time, the values of the British government seem not to have advanced since.
If the UK and its EU partners wish for their claims of standing for freedom to be taken seriously, they should at least match their words to their deeds by shunning those regimes whose rule is wholly based on extremism, injustice and persecution of dissidents. When the majority of international human rights organisations such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch are documenting Iran’s widespread brutality, crackdown, persecution and discrimination against Ahwazis and other peoples in Iran, it is surely time for the supposedly enlightened leaders of the European Union and the UK to follow suit.
By Rahim Hamid, an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. Hamid tweets under @Samireza42.