Iran’s regime has launched a brutal crackdown, and mass arrests of prominent Ahwazi activists and cultural figures, following massive protests in the wake of the suspicious death of a popular Ahwazi poet. Dozens of writers, dissidents and civil rights activists were arrested in areas across the Ahwaz region of southwest Iran as demonstrations continued to grow in reaction to the death on Sunday (10 November) of 29-year-old Hassan Haidari, an iconic poet and cultural figure, who died the day after his release from regime detention. Amongst those arrested were Haidari’s brother and uncle, who were reportedly detained for refusing to give a false interview for state media claiming that Hassan’s death had not been suspicious.
Haidari, whose revolutionary poetry was widely admired for its themes of justice and freedom and its strong condemnations of the theocratic regime’s anti-Arab brutality, had been rearrested on Friday a few weeks after his release at the end of a previous seven-month prison term, although no charges were brought against him during this brief detention. On returning home the next day, Saturday, the poet told family members that he was in agonising pain and feared he had been deliberately poisoned during his incarceration. Although his family rushed him to a local hospital, he suffered a massive stroke and fell into a coma soon after his arrival. He never recovered consciousness, dying the next day and leaving behind his wife and young daughter. Following his death, doctors told his family that he had suffered massive cranial bleeding as well as heavy internal bleeding, likely due to a high dose of an unidentified and lethal poison. However, regime intelligence agents forbade the medical staff from carrying out an autopsy and refused to release his body to his family for burial, instead burying it secretly, only allowing his father and brother to attend his burial.
News of Haidari’s suspicious death quickly spread via social media across the city and region, with crowds of protesters gathering outside his family’s home to pay tribute and mourn the iconic young poet, with many reciting stanzas of his best-loved poems. The protests rapidly spread across the region in the next couple of days, with thousands of Ahwazis taking to the streets of towns and villages across the region for massive peaceful demonstrations. Some of the protesters expressed their anger at the regime over his death by scaling flagpoles and pulling down the ubiquitous Iranian flags, which are seen as a hated symbol of oppression and occupation by most of the Ahwazi people.
Adding insult to injury, after refusing to allow Hassan Haidari’s family to take his body for burial, regime officials attempted to force family members to appear on state TV to claim that he had died as a result of food poisoning rather than any more sinister cause, in an effort to quell public anger. When his grieving family refused to go along with this charade, the regime arrested one of his brothers, along with his uncle, who had spoken to the media about his death, as well as a neighbour who spoke out to condemn the arrest of the grieving family members.
The regime reacted swiftly and brutally to the continuing protests, deploying its hated Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), who predictably used live ammunition and tear gas in an effort to intimidate the protesters, as well as launching a massive campaign of arrests of activists and cultural figures, one of whom was detained along with his children. None of those detained have been heard from since, and past experience with the regime’s use of torture has left the families of the arrestees worried if they will ever see their loved ones again.
Karim Dahimi, an Ahwazi rights activist, based in London, said: “The aim behind these arrests is instilling fear and panic in the hearts of activists as the Ahwazi youths defy the Iranian regime. We should not forget that the popular protests in Lebanon and Iraq against the policies of the terrorist regime of Iran have a significant impact on the non-Persian peoples in Iran. We see the Ahwazi youth protested against the death of a cultural activist and former prisoner who died in ambiguous circumstances. During the protests, they have burned and taken down the Iranian flag, as the case in Basra and the other Iraqi cities.”
Thirty-one of the detainees have been identified, ranging in age between 20 and 70, with one of those arrested, another young poet, Reza Amiri, being detained along with his father, brother and uncle. These 31 identified detainees have been named as:
1: Abbas Chaldawi,2: Aghil Sawari,3: Qassem Batrani, 4: Tofiq Sawaedi, 5: Khazal Haidari, 6: Sheltagh Haidari 7: 8: Joma Sawari, 9: Yousef Haidari,10: Qasem Haidari, 11: Ebrahim Haidari, 12: Hassan Sawari,13: Reza Amiri,14: Rahim Amiri, 15: Mohammed Amiri, 16: Mansour Amiri, 17: Haj Karim Naseri, 18; Mohammed Naseri, 19: Khalil Naseri, 20: Ali Naseri, 21: Nasser Sawari, 22: Reza Baledi, 23: Seyed Abdullah Ghorabi, 23: Ali Mojadam, 24: Tareq Naseri, 25: Hani Jaberi, 26: Eyad Jaberi, 27: Ali Jaberi, 28: Danial Bawi, 29: Abbas Sahaghi, 30: Khairallah Sawari, 31: Mohammed Haidari.
Ahwazi activists around the world have attempted to draw media attention to the massive protests, which have grown to include tens of thousands of people. Alarmingly, the scant media attention the protests have received has largely relied upon Iranian state media and other biased sources, downplaying the size and nature of the protests. There have been condemnations and calls from across civil society for a serious investigation into young Hassan’s murder, but without proper and accurate coverage of the massive protests, most Ahwazis fear that the protesters will be disappeared by a regime that is inexplicably getting a free pass.
Scottish writer and freedom activist Ruth Riegler condemned the global silence over the Iranian regime’s actions, saying, “How can the West claim to stand for universal freedom, for democracy and human rights while those of Ahwazis and other minorities in Iran continue to be murderously crushed by Iran’s regime? If Western governments committed a fraction of the heinous crimes against dissidents in Western nations that Iran’s regime does against Ahwazis, there would rightly be a media outcry internationally – yet the same media and international human rights organisations are silent on Iran or even endorse the regime. Why are the same journalists condemning other regional governments like Turkey and Saudi Arabia for authoritarianism not also speaking out against the Iranian regime’s and its proxies’ monstrous crimes against humanity, in Ahwaz and across Iran and in Syria, Iraq and the region? The Iranian regime’s claims of ‘resistance’ and support for the oppressed are as much a sham as Assad’s and other tyrants; indeed the ‘Islamic State’ made the same claims as the ‘Islamic Republic’ for those under its control and with the same lack of any legitimacy and using the same brutal terror to crush dissent. It’s long past time the supposedly civilised world showed some truly universal values and some real support for freedom, democracy and human rights – we are all human, we all want the same peace, freedom, democracy, rights.”
By Rahim Hamid, an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. Hamid tweets under @Samireza42.