Ahwazi human rights activists have reported that the regime continues to engage in a murderous onslaught against the people of the Arab Ahwaz region in the south and southwest Iran in retaliation for recent anti-regime protests.
At least 60 unarmed protesters have been confirmed killed during the demonstrations, which first broke out in Ahwaz following the suspicious death by poisoning of a popular Ahwazi poet. 29-year-old Hassan Haidari died of poisoning shortly after his release from regime custody despite being rushed to the hospital.
These protests grew and joined with others across Iran following the regime’s sudden announcement of massive fuel price increases, a move seen as the last straw by people already struggling to survive, many of whom were already living below the poverty line. At least 300 other protesters were killed across the country in these demonstrations, with thousands more maimed and detained. Although the regime leadership blames US sanctions for the worsening domestic economic crisis and the fuel price increases, it continues to spend massive sums on weapons development, deploying troops and militias across the Middle East and on helping to prop up the Assad regime in power, including infrastructure projects both in Syria and regionally, such as a railway linking the country with Iran.
Human rights activists have also reported that Iranian authorities have now declared the Ahwaz region a closed military zone and have sealed off all access and exit routes to the region’s cities and districts, enforcing a military curfew.
Security officials have also reportedly turned a school building in the city of Abadan, Ma’shour into a detention centre, where hundreds of detainees are purportedly being held in entirely inhumane conditions.
The Internet remains mostly cut off, and the country is under a complete state of media censorship, which regime-affiliated media are using to disseminate disinformation, while its critics are denied access. Human rights and electronic rights activists alike have harshly criticised Iran’s unprecedented closure of the Internet and have raised serious concerns regarding Iran’s attempts to create its own state-controlled national intranet.
The activists also report that the regime’s security forces are torturing Ahwazi protesters, including children, detained during the demonstrations in some of its infamous prisons and ‘black site’ detention centres. Regime torturers are reportedly apparently attempting to extract ‘confessions’ from the detainees of being agents for foreign powers trying to destabilise Iran. This remains the regime’s favoured narrative every time protests break out, which has been employed with increasing frequency in recent years.
One of the Ahwazi protesters arrested during the protests is believed to have been killed while under torture. The victim was 35-year-old Hamid Shaikhani from the city of Ma’shour, who was married with a seven-year-old child, and detained on 17 November in his hometown for participating in a peaceful protest. His family received a brusque phone call from a regime official 7 days later, on Saturday, 23 November, notifying them that he had died in the detention centre and that his family would be allowed to collect his body for burial on condition that they didn’t hold the traditional mourning ceremonies for him or discuss his death with any media.
Rights groups have expressed grave fear of further regime violence in retaliation for the protests across the country, with the regime cutting off all internet services to Iran for four days in an effort to cover up the brutality of its forces, as they used lethal and massively disproportionate force to crush the demonstrations.
The Ahwazi group said that the regime has already launched mass arrests in more than 15 Ahwazi towns, arresting men, women and children, and even elderly women, simply participating in or expressing support for the protests. There is fear that the death toll will rise significantly, as the regime has a long record of killing Ahwazi detainees in its detention centres, after subjecting them to the worst torture.
The infamous regime-appointed governor of the Ahwaz region, Gholam Reza Shariati, announced on Saturday 23 November that security forces had already arrested 180 Ahwazi protesters in 15 Ahwazi towns so far, accusing the protesters of being violent saboteurs. The regime official vowed to inflict extreme punishment on the protesters, who have been vilified by regime leadership as rioters and agents of foreign powers, as well as being accused of “spreading corruption on earth”, with the senior regime officials demanding their execution. Amongst the conspiracy theories being promoted by regime media are that the protests are a plot organised by ‘counter-revolutionaries’, with the protesters being depicted as either paid mercenaries or dupes fooled by media into insurgency against the ‘Islamic Revolution’.
The Ahwazi protesters killed by regime forces during the demonstrations were all unarmed and included women, children and elderly people. Many were severely beaten around the face and head, with the regime apparently giving carte blanche to its forces to be as vicious as possible in their efforts to terrorise the protesters into silence and acquiescence.
Due to the Internet shutdown imposed by the regime in Iran and mainly in Ahwaz, as well as the complete censorship of any independent reporting, the DIRS has so far only been able to confirm the identities of a fraction of the murdered protesters. These are:
In the city of Muhammara:
- Ali Ghazlawi (aged 12)
- Meysam Adegipour (aged 30)
- Khaled Meniat
- Milad Hamidawi
- Hassan Tamimi
In the city of Abadan:
6- Ebrahim Matouri
7- Ali Baghlani (son of Taher)
In the city of Tester (Shooshtar):
8- Seyed Ahmad Mousavi Jeawleh
In the city of Ahwaz:
9- Hamza Sawari (aged 22)
10- Mohammad Reza Assafi Zirgani (aged 20)
11- Meysam Mojadam
12- Reza Neisi
In the city of Ma’shour:
13- Shahab Hattawi (Son of Abdollah)
14- Ghasem Bawi (Son of Mansour)
15- Mohammad Khaledi
16- Adnan Helali
17- Mojtaba Ebadi
18- Mansour Dris
19- Abbas Asakereh
20- Ahmad Khajeh Albuali
21- Ali Khajeh Albuali
22- Mohammad Khaleghi
23- Reza Asakereh
24- Mrs Etghi (Wife of Mokhtar Etghi)
25- Yousef Khaledi
26- Hamid Shaikhani
In the city of Behbahan:
27- Mohammad Hossein Ghanawati
28- Ehsan Abdollahnejad
29- Mehrdad Dashtiniya
30- Mahmoud Dashtiniya
31- Ahmad Hashmdar
32- Shabnam Diyani
33- Tadin (first name unknown)
34- Farzad Ansari
35- Farzad Tazmipour
The city of Ramhormoz (Ramez):
36- Mousavi (first name unknown)
37- Hadi Ghorbani
A number of security forces personnel were also reportedly killed in clashes in the city of Falahiyeh.
The governor of the capital Tehran had previously said that there were protests in 22 out of a total of 31 provinces in Iran.
Ahwazi rights groups have strongly condemned the unprecedented killing and repression of protesters by the Islamic Republic regime, which at this point can be classified as a crime against humanity and are calling on the international community to intervene to put an end to the bloodbath in the Ahwaz region, and to hold the regime and all the perpetrators of the crimes committed against the Ahwazi people – and all people of Iran – in the past week accountable for their crimes. Attorneys around the world, including Aaron Eitan Meyer, have called upon relevant UN agencies, from its Human Rights Council and Special Rapporteurs to the Security Council itself, to exercise their delegated powers and intervene directly.
The human rights groups have called for a fact-finding committee to be sent by relevant international bodies to investigate the Iranian regime’s killings and other crimes against defenceless civilians, and are calling on international organisations to pressure the Islamic Republic to completely lift its internet ban. They further called on international organisations and human rights organisations to pressure Iran to officially announce the names of all the killed, wounded and arrested, and to release all the detainees as soon as possible.
Speaking about the killings, Scottish writer and freedom activist Ruth Riegler slammed the Iranian regime, calling its crimes “a barbaric affront to human decency”.
Asking how the world could continue to remain silent in the face of such heinous brutality, she added in an email, “A regime like Iran’s or Assad’s that can only maintain power through slaughter, terror and repression is no better than any terrorist group. The so-called Islamic Republic has the temerity to present itself as a democratic state opposing terror when it is in fact a viciously repressive, deeply fascistic medieval Orwellian dictatorship built on and dependent on terrorising the people into subjugation exploiting religion as a figleaf, an ‘Islamic State’ with a UN seat and air force. Its systemic murderous racism towards Ahwazis, Kurds and other minority populations and to all dissidents exposes its claims to stand for resistance and to help the oppressed as an inversion of truth like all its other claims. We’re in an age of authoritarian monsters and Iran’s regime is one of the most heinous – if Western governments don’t step up to the plate and support peoples under such evil regimes who are fighting heroically for freedom, we are complicit in the crimes against them.”
We must urge a final note of caution as the regime misrepresents that the protests have been snuffed out, and that all is back to the status quo. For the people of Ahwaz, who lack any deterrence capabilities of other ethnic minority groups such as the Kurds and the Azeri, the regime’s brutal counter-strike has only begun, and if the world’s attention is not drawn to and kept on the regime and its reprisals, further crimes against humanity are certain to come.
By Rahim Hamid, an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. Hamid tweets under @Samireza42.