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Ahwazi activist’s brother: Iranian agents abducted and killed my sister, then staged obviously fake ‘suicide’


On Saturday night, the lifeless body of 37-year-old Atefeh Naami, an Ahwazi Arab civil rights activist, was found in her apartment in the Azimiyeh neighbourhood of Karaj city near Tehran, over three weeks after she had disappeared. Her body was discovered, covered by a blanket, on the apartment’s balcony, with a rubber hose connected to the mains gas valve placed near her mouth; the body had reportedly been there for at least a week.

On Monday, after Iranian regime security agents hurriedly returned her body to Ahwaz, she was buried in the Behesht Abad cemetery, with only a few female family members allowed to be present, and with her family forbidden from holding the usual funeral rituals.

While a detailed report has not yet been issued by a forensic pathologist about the cause of Atefeh Naami’s death, her brother, Mohammed Amin Naami, now living in exile in Austria, has no doubt at all that his sister was abducted and tortured to death by Iranian regime personnel, who then disposed of the body in the way described above in a clumsy effort to make her death look like a suicide.

“It was very clearly staged”, Mohammed told DIRS in an exclusive interview, adding that his sister was an impassioned, dynamic activist with no tendency to suicidal thoughts or emotions. On the contrary, he said, Atefeh was full of life and working tirelessly to raise international awareness of and support for the ongoing anti-regime protests that have swept Iran since September. She’d been avidly following and reporting on demonstrations in Karaj and elsewhere, as well as on the regime’s brutal targeting of fellow Ahwazi activists, with the regime cracking down particularly harshly on Ahwazi Arabs and other ethnic minority protesters and activists for their ethnicity as well as for their participation in and support for the anti-regime demonstrations.


37-year-old Atefeh Naami, an Ahwazi Arab civil rights activist.
37-year-old Atefeh Naami, an Ahwazi Arab civil rights activist.

Atefeh, who’d graduated from Azad University with a degree in architecture, was an active, independent woman who moved from the Arab Ahwaz region to Karaj to work and pursue postgraduate studies. Although she lived alone in her own apartment there, she had many friends, with Mohammed recalling that throughout her life, she was renowned among family and friends for her selflessness and warmth and her dedication to causes of justice and to helping others, particularly the vulnerable, whether helping elderly or homeless people or caring for stray animals. She was a devoted and much-loved friend, whose love of knowledge and education and passion for activism and making a better world made her popular wherever she went.

Atefeh was particularly keen on civil and political activism, her brother added, focusing especially on how Iran could advance from a backwards, repressive, monoethnic, totalitarian state privileging only its Persian citizens to a vibrant, pluralist, multicultural, multi-ethnic democratic nation reflecting all the peoples who make up its mosaic population, including Ahwazis, Kurds, Balochis,  Azerbaijani Turks and other groups, empowering women, and rejecting the theocracy, sexism and all forms of bigotry which she said hold the nation back.


Mohammed recalled that his sister would become animated and passionate in their discussions of social justice and of books she’d recently read: “Atefeh had a special look,” he said. “She always argued and said that we should fight to end the multifaceted ethnic oppression that has been going on for decades against our Arab Ahwazis, Kurds, Turks and Balochis, and that Iran should be decentralised in ruling like federalised for all its nations existing in it. She read lots of investigative and historical books about democratisation and promoting a multicultural ruling system and a pluralist country in terms of ethnicity and religion, and empowering the marginalised Ahwazi Arab, Kurdish, and Balochi women who are doubly oppressed. From this, it is clear that she was in the revolutionary phase – not suicidal, but the very opposite!”

            While Atefeh is the first Ahwazi woman known to have been killed by the regime for her support for the current wave of protests, at least six male Ahwazi activists have been killed since September.

Atefeh’s brother cast scorn on what he said was the very obviously staged effort to make her death look like suicide. He pointed out that hers is not the first such case in which the Iranian regime has killed an activist or protester supporting or participating in the anti-regime protests currently rocking the country, then clumsily attempted to pass their death off as suicide. Indeed, in recent weeks, the regime has even forced some of its victims’ family members to participate in very obviously scripted ‘confessional’ interviews talking about how their loved ones died by ‘falling’ from a height or otherwise committing suicide; this grotesque victim-blaming has been seen in the case of two teenage female protesters killed by regime forces, Nika Shakrami and Sarina Ismailzadeh.

While Atefeh is the first Ahwazi woman known to have been killed by the regime for her support for the current wave of protests, at least six male Ahwazi activists have been killed since September, with many more Ahwazi activists of both sexes detained or ‘disappeared’ by regime authorities in the same period.

Mohammed noted that his sister last spoke with family members on 17 November. In the first few days, her brothers and sisters weren’t initially too worried about not hearing from her, thinking that the lack of communication might be due to the regime’s policy of imposing internet and mobile phone blackouts across Iran in an effort to stop news getting out about the protests.

During this time, Atefeh’s older sister, who lives in Tehran, around 20 miles from Karaj, had seen her sister online or at least appeared to be online several times, but after receiving no response to messages, she eventually decided, last Saturday, to travel to Atefeh’s apartment, along with her son (Atefeh’s nephew) and another family member, just to check that she was okay.

As soon as the family members arrived at Atefeh’s home, they saw a handwritten note pinned to the door advising caution and warning of a possible gas leak in the apartment. This immediately aroused the visitors’ suspicions, with the sister’s son and the other family members breaking down the door and entering the apartment. Unfortunately, when they went inside, they were immediately assailed by a foul stench of rotten meat. They quickly traced this to Atefeh’s body, which had clearly been lying on the balcony for at least a week, finding it lying on a thin carpet and covered with a blanket, with a hose connected at the other end to the mains gas valve lying near her mouth.

“We believe that our sister was killed by regime security agents because she was distributing pamphlets about women’s freedom, and about the importance of ending the racist oppression in Ahwaz, Baluchistan and Kurdistan during this uprising”,Atefeh’s brother stated.

Mohammed explained that his older sister immediately called the police who quickly arrived. Contrary to the usual investigative process in such cases, he said, the police quickly disposed of possible items of evidence at the scene on the pretext that they had an unpleasant smell. A police officer with the criminal investigation department who came to the apartment stated flatly that the death was not a suicide – but failed to launch any investigation.

Atefeh’s brother stated that his sister’s longstanding principled opposition to the Iranian regime’s tyranny and misogyny and particularly her outspoken support and activism for the wave of anti-regime protests currently sweeping the country had clearly enraged the regime and led to her being targeted and killed. “We believe that our sister was killed by regime security agents because she was distributing pamphlets about women’s freedom, and about the importance of ending the racist oppression in Ahwaz, Baluchistan and Kurdistan during this uprising,” he stated. “In the Azimiyeh neighbourhood of Karaj, where she lived, people have been actively engaging in protest against the government. Every night, my sister invited women and people in the street from the balcony of her house.”

“I myself was arrested several times for my human rights activities back in Ahwaz for supporting the national rights and freedom of my own Arab Ahwazi people who were subject to a century of ethnic oppression for being Arab before I got out of the country, I am pretty sure that the Ministry of Intelligence agents probably abducted my sister too in one of the alleys overlooking the road to her house, and after being tortured and harassed in the unspeakable manner we all know, she was killed.”


Atefeh’s brother noted that even those Iranian human rights groups who have reported her death have omitted any mention of her Ahwazi identity, although this was a formative element in her activism and her worldview. This erasure of her Arab Ahwazi identity like that of other Ahwazi activists, extended even to the pronunciation of her name, in the Farsi manner, rather than in her native Arabic, he noted.

Mohammed lamented the fact that his sister had been forced to move far from Ahwaz due to the anti-Arab discrimination in employment in the region and the greater availability of further educational opportunities in predominantly Persian areas, further noting that while Atefeh had consistently spoken out to condemn the racism faced by Ahwazis in Persian society, this had never been mentioned in any Farsi-language coverage of her death.

He also voiced frustration at the lack of coverage of the Iranian regime’s racist policies and oppression towards Ahwazis and other ethnic minorities by international media and human rights bodies, with barely any reporting on the systematic abuses of human rights endured daily by Ahwazis, Kurds, Balochis and others.

He added that these media and agencies often listen only to Iranian opposition groups which he said replicate the regime’s bigotry towards ethnic minorities, wanting a change in the faces in charge of the country but not a change in the unjust and racist system. Indeed, Mohammed concluded, his sister’s Ahwazi Arab ethnicity was very probably a deciding factor in her killers’ decision to murder her: “This was no accident,” he said. “I’m sure she was killed after they found out she was Ahwazi Arab.”

By Rahim Hamid  

 Rahim Hamid, an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. Hamid tweets under @Samireza42.


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