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Activists, human rights orgs demand halt to Iran’s planned execution of Ahwazi dissident Habib Chaab

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The Swedish foreign ministry issued what many see as a perfunctory pro-forma ‘warning’ on Monday, 13 March to Iran’s ambassador to Sweden over the death sentence upheld against Swedish-Ahwazi Arab citizen Habib Chaab by Iran’s Supreme Court the previous day.  

The hearing on Sunday confirmed the previous death sentence issued against Chaab, an Ahwazi dissident who had lived in exile in Sweden for 14 years, becoming a citizen of the country. The sentence, for an attack against an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) military parade in Ahwaz in September 2018 while Chaab was in Sweden, was a foregone conclusion, with the regime targeting prominent Ahwazi dissidents for assassination both in and outside Iran for years. 

Chaab, a prominent Ahwazi Arab political activist, had lived in exile with his family in Sweden for 14 years until he was apparently lured to Turkey by Iranian intelligence agents in October 2020 under false pretences, then drugged, kidnapped and taken to Iran. He appeared on Iranian state TV a month later, with bruises clearly visible on his face, making a stilted, obviously coerced ‘confession’ to an attack on an IRGC military parade in Ahwaz carried out while he was in Sweden. His ‘trial’ was a similarly grotesque sham, with the verdict a foregone conclusion. 

Speaking to Iran’s ambassador on Monday, foreign ministry officials told him that Sweden’s government has requested that the death penalty against Chaab be suspended, reminding the Iranian envoy that the European Union member states unanimously condemn the use of the death penalty wherever it’s applied. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials also repeated foreign minister Tobias Billström’s previous request to his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amirabdollahian, asking for consular access to Chaab. 

The Iranian ambassador’s response was not recorded, although it’s unlikely that Sweden’s request will have any effect. 

For its part, Amnesty International called for the immediate release of Habib Chaab, condemning the sham trial staged by the Iranian regime. 

In a statement on Twitter, the international human rights organisation said: “Iran’s authorities must immediately stop any plans to execute Swedish-Ahwazi dissident Habib Chaab (Asyoud) and quash his unjust conviction & death sentence, which was upheld by the Supreme Court, raising fears that his execution is imminent.” 

It added that Chaab’s trial before Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, which convicted him of “corruption on earth” and sentenced him to death, concluded on 25 October 2022, was grossly unfair.

The statement noted:” Following Habib Chaab’s abduction in Türkiye shortly after his arrival from Sweden on 9 October 2020 and the Iranian authorities’ announcement of his detention in Iran on 31 October 2020, Iranian state television aired propaganda videos showing him “confessing” to involvement in an armed attack on a military parade on 22 September 2018 in Ahwaz in which over 20 members of IRGC were killed according to Iranian state media.”

By airing these forced “confessions” prior to his trial, the authorities violated Habib Chaab’s right to a fair trial, including to presumption of innocence, to not self-incriminate and to remain silent, the organisation continued. 

Amnesty International has also consistently held that the offence of “corruption on earth” fails to meet the requirements for clarity and precision needed in criminal law and breaches the principle of legality and legal certainty.

Since 2019, Amnesty International has also documented two other cases involving the abduction of dissidents based abroad by Iran’s security and intelligence agents and their forcible return to Iran. According to Amnesty, Dissident journalist Rouhollah Zam was abducted from Iraq in October 2019 by the Revolutionary Guards and forcibly returned to Iran. Iranian authorities executed him in December 2020 following a grossly unfair trial. 

Chaab’s wife, Hoda Havashemi, told Radio Free Europe in 2022 that all charges directed against Habib were false and feared he wouldn’t receive a fair trial. Havashemi said Swedish authorities were not being granted access to Chaab since Iran does not recognise dual citizenship; even if it did, however, the Iranian regime commonly prevents prisoners from receiving visits, even from family members or legal representatives. 

Friends and colleagues of Habib Chaab said that trial was typical of Iran’s regime, simply a farcical rubber stamp without a trace of justice, intended to crush dissent and intimidate others into silence.

The Iranian regime supreme court in Tehran claimed that Habib, through his connections to the Ahwazi groups in exile, was involved in targeting the parade by members of the regime’s infamous so-called Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in which 25 IRGC soldiers were killed and another 70 injured, with the attackers being killed at the scene. In the typically brief hearing, the regime prosecutor accused Habib of ‘corruption on Earth’, a charge routinely levelled at all dissidents. 

Habib was accused of involvement in the military parade attack despite the so-called Islamic State, a terror group known as ISIS, claiming responsibility for the attack only hours after it took place. Moreover, the day after the attack, ISIL released a video of the three men whom it identified as the perpetrators of the Ahwaz attack. 

In the ISIS video, the first individual, speaking in Arabic thanks God for the “blessing of jihad,” while the second group member claimed that he was carrying out “God’s command”.

The third person in the video, an ethnic Iranian speaking in Farsi, announced that the attack was a “strong operation” intended to target Iran’s “armies,” adding, “We are Muslims – they are infidels.” 

A few days after this statement, ISIS published articles and images about the Ahwaz attack on its weekly online Naba (News) magazine, issuing a photo of five alleged attackers sitting in front of ISIS’ distinctive black flag.

Despite these efforts to slander the Ahwazi people, the language used by the attackers in the ISIS video is typical of fundamentalist Islamist extremist groups, which is in stark contrast to the ideology of Ahwazi groups whose aversion to religious extremism and theocracy of any flavour has been strengthened by 45 years to date of rule by the Iranian regime.

For Ahwazi groups and freedom activists, the hateful extremist ideology promoted by ISIS, as by Al Qaeda, the Taliban is no different to that of the Iranian regime and its proxy militias, varying only in its sectarian wrapping rather than in its content. Ahwazi freedom movements’ ideology, by contrast, is of a rigorously liberal, secular-oriented, democratic nature centred on the fundamental human right to freedom; this puts them entirely at odds with the murderous, anti-democratic, totalitarian doctrines of ISIS and other radical Islamist groups which share far more in common with the Iranian regime that claims to oppose them. 

What further confirmed ISIS’ responsibility for the September 2018 attack was the Iranian military’s response and the positions of the Iranian regime’s officials who claim to be targeting ISIS in Syria. In an official statement announcing the retaliatory attack two weeks after the military parade attack, the regime announced that “six medium-range ballistic missiles were fired from the IRGC air missile bases in the west of Iran towards the east of the Euphrates in Syria in response to the attack on the armed forces parade in Ahwaz,” stating that the missile attack was launched at 2:00 AM on Monday, 1 October 2018.

According to the IRGC’s statement, in the nominally retaliatory operation, which it labelled the ‘Muharram strike’, “seven combat drones” were also employed to target the positions of the “Takfiri terrorists”, the term usually used by Iran’s regime for ISIS, and often for dissidents and anyone opposing the Iranian regime or its allies.  

 Ali Fadavi, the IRGC’s deputy coordinator, also directly blamed ISIS for the attack on the IRGC parade in Ahwaz a few days after it took place, saying: “This issue [shooting] is not a sign of strength and power, but a sign of humiliation and the continuation of ISIS’ actions in Iraq and Syria, which martyr innocent people.” 

 Similarly, Abdullah Ganji, the senior editor of the IRGC-affiliated ‘Javan’ newspaper close to the IRGC, described the attack on the military parade in Ahwaz as being similar to that of the so-called Islamic State’s operations rather than those of Ahwazi groups, writing in an op-ed about the incident, “Ahwazi armed groups have carried out bombings and shootings in recent years – that is, they either bombed or attacked a place using a motorbike or car and left the scene immediately. But this attack used techniques adopted by ISIS members who, with their clear unmasked identities in broad daylight, attack their targets and do not leave until they’re killed at the scene, as they did in the Iranian parliament where they left no room for themselves to escape and were killed there.” 

 Ganji continued, “Two of those killed are brothers and their third brother had already committed suicide in Syria and another terrorist killed is their cousin, all of which confirms their connection to ISIL or Takfiri terrorists.”

Iranian state TV also interviewed family members of the supposed perpetrators of the parade attack in a TV show called ‘Without Compliments’, in which these interviewees spoke about their family members’ connection to ISIS; again, none of the interviewees mentioned any connection to the Ahwazi dissident groups in exile.

Despite all this evidence from the regime’s own sources clearly showing no links at all between the military parade attack and the exiled Ahwazi dissident groups who have consistently condemned ISIS, let alone with Habib Chaab thousands of miles away, Chaab was charged, ludicrously, with involvement in the attack, with the prosecution alleging, with no evidence, that Ahwazi dissidents in exile were connected to it. 

The exiled Ahwazi political and human rights groups who campaign for Ahwazi freedom and human rights have been subjected to a long-running campaign of slander and defamation by Iran’s regime, which has targeted a number of Ahwazi figures in exile in Europe previously. On 8 November 2017, the Ahwazi political figure, Ahmed Mola Nissi, who was shot twice in the face at close range in front of his home in the Bezuidenhout district in The Hague in the Netherlands in an apparently well-planned assassination operation by the regime, whose perpetrator has never been caught.

Why are the Iranian regime authorities attributed responsibility for the attack to Chaab and the Ahwazi groups in exile? 

The answer to this question is quite straightforward; fabricating any link, however transparently false, between the Ahwazi Arab population and the so-called Islamic State, could have both domestic and overseas benefits for the so-called Islamic Republic. Firstly, this provides another useful pretext for further repression of the Ahwazi people, as the regime struggles to quell rising anger in Ahwaz and across Iran at the dire economic situation and living conditions; by linking Ahwazis to ISIS, the regime justifies even greater brutality and suppression of protest and dissent. 

Ahwazis have already faced almost a century of systemic anti-Arab racism and injustice at successive Iranian regimes’ hands, being denied the most fundamental human rights, deprived of social, cultural and dispossessed of their homes and lands, which are distributed to incoming ethnically Persian colonists, in addition to facing the ‘normal’ vicious oppression inflicted on dissidents by tyrants and totalitarian regimes. This routine dehumanisation of the Ahwazi people and Arabs across the region, which is seen across Iranian media and in everyday life, fits in well with any effort to slander Ahwazi dissidents and thereby legitimise further abuse by suggesting that they’re connected to ISIS, with the existing anti-Arab prejudice resulting from decades of such bigotry predisposing other Iranians indoctrinated with this racist worldview to easily believe such a falsehood. 

The accusation of being connected to ISIS is simply the latest update in Tehran’s efforts to denigrate Ahwazis; during the rule of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party in Iraq, the so-called Islamic Republic accused any Ahwazi dissenting or protesting against the regime’s systemic injustice of being a ‘Baath Party supporter’. With the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, Iran’s regime simply switched to slandering Ahwazi activists and dissidents as “Wahhabis” and agents of the Saudi state (a slanderous narrative it may ‘tweak’ following Tehran’s rapprochement with the Saudi leadership). Now, Iran’s regime uses the slanderous allegation of being ISIS to vilify Ahwazis.  

These are, of course, not the only charges used by the regime against Ahwazi dissidents, political and cultural activists, or any Ahwazi who dares to speak out against the relentless injustice the people are subjected to. The regime has a long list of equally false charges in addition to the aforementioned ones, including ‘supporting separatism’, ‘waging war against God’, and ‘doing corruption on Earth’. All these charges consistently result either in death sentences or in decades-long prison sentences, with Ahwazi prisoners routinely exiled to distant areas of Iran far from Ahwaz where their usually impoverished families are unable to visit them and where they’re imprisoned among ethnically Persian prisoners likely to be hostile to them for their Arab ethnicity. 

“Confessions” to all these alleged crimes are extorted via torture inflicted by Iranian regime intelligence agents, often in the regime’s infamous secret network of ‘black prisons’; the regime often forces detainees to make these ‘confessions’ for recordings used on state television, as in Chaab’s case, in which the bruising and signs of torture are clearly seen while the detainees repeat the words of their obviously coerced confessions by rote. This is used by the regime as a way to further demonise Ahwazi political prisoners

The violent crackdown on the Ahwazi Arab people has escalated during the protests in recent years, especially during the nationwide protests in November 2019, during which the Iranian regime used medium and heavy weapons such as mortars, tanks and helicopter gunships to crush peaceful Ahwazi protests in Ma’shour, killing over 130 people; this atrocity, known as Ma’shour Massacre, shows that the Iranian regime’s repression has become even harsher and crueller than it was previously since the 2018 military parade attack, with the regime finding the false accusations of ISIS affiliation useful in justifying atrocities on a large scale.

In Ma’shour, the IRGC’s tanks and helicopter gunships fired indiscriminately at protesters, while dozens of demonstrators who fled to the nearby marshes to escape the carnage, many of them teenagers, were burnt to death when the regime doused the marshlands with petrol then set them alight.

Following the Ma’shour massacre, the regime’s agents added insult to grievous injury by spreading baseless rumours that the protests had been covering for ISIS to invade Ma’shour and threaten the massive state-owned petrochemical plants there. In reality, there has never been any ISIS presence there or elsewhere in Ahwaz, while the petrochemical facilities, which belch choking pollution around the clock, are another painful reminder to the people around Ma’shour that although Ahwazis’ lands hold over 95% of the oil and gas resources seized by Iran’s regime, the Ahwazis live in wretched poverty, with the only share of that vast resource wealth received by the people being in the form of toxic pollution, poisoning their remaining rivers and destroying the environment.

Ahwazis are denied even jobs at these petrochemical facilities, with all but the most menial jobs being reserved for ethnically Persian Iranians brought in especially from other areas of Iran; these internal migrants are provided with homes in ethnically homogenous, well-appointed, specially built settlements furnished with every mod con; Ahwazis are not permitted to live in these settlements. Meanwhile, the areas housing the Ahwazi people are deliberately neglected by the regime, and denied even clean drinking water, with the atmospheric and other pollution causing high levels of cancer and other diseases. 

All these factors show that, long before Habib Chaab’s trial, Iran’s regime had already used these scurrilous and wholly false accusations against Ahwazis to depict itself as a victim of terror, despite being the perpetrator of both state and non-state terror on an unimaginable scale. It should also be remembered that Chaab is not the first exiled dissident to be targeted by the regime, which has carried out many assassinations of Ahwazi and other dissidents in nations worldwide, helped by the ‘international community’s near-total indifference to its relentless violence, both to dissidents and to others. 

The Iranian regime’s claims that Chaab was arrested in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are a flimsy attempt to deny the well-documented evidence of his being kidnapped by regime-affiliated thugs in Istanbul and to divert attention from the techniques used in the kidnapping of opposition figures by the Iranian regime’s foreign intelligence agencies. Moreover, the falsities of Iran’s claims are easily exposed since Turkey had already published all the documented evidence on Chaab’s abduction.

This evidence is essential in showing the absolute unreliability of the Iranian regime’s claims in Chaab’s trial, as Chaab himself was prevented from doing, since his trial, like all the regime’s quasi-legal proceedings, is a farcical kangaroo trial in which he was deprived of the opportunity to choose his own lawyer, with the regime appointing a lawyer who was, in reality, a compliant regime mouthpiece appointed for the sake of appearance rather than to represent the defendant; this is not an unusual case, but the norm in all trials of dissidents. This bias was clearly shown in a speech to the court by the lawyer himself, Rasoul Taqdisi; addressing the court supposedly to defend Chaab, Taqdisi said: “The client has confessed and we have accepted and we do not seek the acquittal of the accused,” a statement exposing that the outcome of the trial was predetermined and the trial process itself is nothing more than show. 

Karim Dahimi, an Ahwazi rights activist based in London, told DIRS, “As to the trial of Habib Chaab, held inside Iran, there are several aspects that make the trial illegitimate and unfair. First, there is no impartial lawyer for the accused Ahwazi activist. The lawyer is appointed by the Islamic Republic regime and heaps charges against the Ahwazi activist instead of defending him. This is one way in which the trial is illegitimate and lacks impartiality.” 

He further explained, “The charges brought against Chaab are divided into two categories: First there are old charges, dating back to 2005 and 2006. These charges were previously brought against other Ahwazi activists, who were tried and executed, and the cases were totally closed. Now they bring the same accusations against Chaab, for crimes in which he wasn’t involved at all.”

Dahimi continued, “The confessions taken from Chaab, abducted in October 2020 from Turkey, were extracted under duress. In early video footage where Chaab appeared, he had no physical injuries. Later he is seen to be limping. Those forced confessions show the trial is illegitimate. The regime authorities also arrested friends whose details they found on his phone, and accused them of links with Ahwazi Arab movements in exile.” 

“The truth about the attack on the military parade shows how scandalous this trial is. Members of other factions of the Iranian opposition welcomed the attack since it targeted the terrorist IRGC. Many people didn’t care who carried out the attack, they were simply glad it happened. The Iranian security services and judiciary know that the Ahwazi groups in exile were not involved. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. Senior regime officials, IRGC commanders and army generals reiterated that ISIS was behind the attack.

It is beyond doubt that the chief party behind the attack on the military parade in Ahwaz was not Ahwazi, and Iranian experts inside Iran said that the attack was not carried out by Ahwazi organisations. The Iranian regime followed up by attacking ISIS outposts in Syria and Iraq. The five attackers who were killed included a Persian individual, and all five were Islamists. The Ahwazi Arab groups in exile have a totally a fair human cause in defence of Ahwazis, and members in the Ahwazi groups do not include Persians or Islamists.”

Activists are well aware of the regime’s malign objectives, Dahimi noted, saying, “The current trial of Habib Chaab is aimed at putting pressure on European countries to release Iran regime-aligned detainees held in Europe. The trial also aims to exert pressure on Europe and to accuse Ahwazi activists, intimidate them, silence them and put pressure on their families. Through the means of this sham trial, the regime seeks to deal a blow to the Ahwazi cause and take aim at Ahwazi activists.

“Chaab has dismissed the trial and the lawyer and has come to the conclusion that the trial is a charade and that the lawyer is a regime puppet. The trial is a travesty of justice. The court verdicts are dictated by the security apparatuses such as the ministry of intelligence and the IRGC intelligence. The fabricated confessions aired on Iranian television are aimed to put pressure on European countries. Unfortunately, his family in exile and at home are prevented from meeting Habib. All we know is that the regime brought him to Ahwaz to encounter some other jailed activists. The aim was to implicate Chaab and the Ahwazi activists in things he and they didn’t do.”

Dahimi further noted, “The regime initially accused ISIS of the bomb attack, and then turned to accuse the Ahwazi groups in exile. It’s a disastrous contradiction. But the regime has been blaming the Ahwazis now because it failed in the face of ISIS – the Iranian regime is reported to have arrested some senior officers following the incident because of their failure in neutralising the attack. The charges against Chaab are aimed at putting pressure on the Ahwazi Arab voices inside and outside who are exposing Iranian regime human rights violations in the Ahwaz region.”

As explained earlier, Chaab’s ‘confession’, like all such ‘confessions’, was very clearly coerced under torture; indeed, every citizen of Iran knows that every ‘confession’ televised by the regime has been coerced under torture of the most unimaginably painful variety, which continues for hours, days and often weeks or months, until the prisoner agrees to say whatever his or her interrogators want, however obviously untrue, simply to make it stop; deaths during torture are routine in Iran’s prisons. The wretched televised footage of Chaab’s ‘confessions’ is very typical of such ‘confessions’, showing his clearly bruised, traumatised face as he reads out memorised statements mechanically as if by rote.   

The death sentence, in this case, was a foregone conclusion, particularly without any international will to help Habib Chaab, more especially given the international community’s grotesque indifference to such injustice. Moreover, although Chaab is a Swedish citizen and should have all the protections given to any other citizen in such a situation, Sweden made no serious effort to secure his freedom or even, prior to summoning the ambassador last week, to acknowledge his case, apparently feeling that diplomatic relations with Iran’s regime matter more than the lives of innocent citizens, even if they are Swedish.  

A further hurdle for Ahwazi activists in raising awareness of the monstrous injustice in this case and others, is the unsupportive attitude of the Persian opposition in exile, even though it is well aware of the regime’s murderous repression and targeting of dissidents. 

In an interview with DIRS, Yaser Assadi, a London-based Ahwazi human rights activist, said, “The Persian opposition share the same anti-Ahwazi views as the Iranian regime and make the same false accusations against Ahwazis. Most Persian people’s attitudes toward Iran’s internal affairs are based on news and propaganda they receive from both the Iran regime and Persian opposition media channels abroad which are monopolised and directed by Persians.” 

Assadi explained that all non-Persian peoples in Iran suffer from the same supremacist attitudes, “Both the regime and Persian opposition blatantly deny the cultural and ethnic diversity of Iran. This leads to the activities of non-Persian peoples being labelled as ‘motivated by separatism’. In fact, when a protest or regime arrests happen in a non-Persian ethnic region, the Persian opposition media barely respond or focus on what is happening, which subsequently provides an ideal opportunity for the regime to suppress and use extra force against civilians. By contrast, when a Persian-dominated city or Persian activist has received harassment, the Persian opposition react immediately and doesn’t hesitate to broadcast such news or raise it with international news networks or organisations.” 

“In Habib Chaab’s case, we’ve witnessed Persian media rely on and repeat the Iran regime’s narrative and accusations. Many Persian human rights activists abroad also ignored and avoided giving any comments bout or condemnation of Habib’s abduction by Iran. In conclusion, Persian people’s concerns about the regime never prevent or exceed their political and racial concern to continue dominating Iran by Persian identity and heritage.”

Similarly, the UN and international human rights organisations have turned their backs, remaining silent and abandoning Habib Chaab to the mercy of the merciless. Typically, there have been no Arab expressions of solidarity, with even those Arab activists and groups which claim to oppose the Iranian regime’s brutality remaining silent, as usual, on the unspeakable injustices inflicted on Ahwazis for their Arab ethnicity or on the specific case of Habib Chaab, one more innocent man facing either life imprisonment or execution for the ‘crime’ of being a widely respected and admired human rights activist speaking out for Ahwazis’ right to the freedom and justice supposedly guaranteed to all the world’s people by the UN Declaration of Human Rights. 

Speaking about the case, American attorney and human rights researcher Aaron Eitan Meyer told DIRS, “Habib Chaab’s only crime was to defend the long-denied rights of Ahwazi Arab people and to be a voice for his long-persecuted Ahwazi people. He managed to escape the viciously anti-Arab Iranian regime, and advocated for his people in exile from what should have been the safety of Europe. While there, like all too many Ahwazis, he was subjected to a longstanding campaign of defamation and harassment by the regime, which accused him of all sorts of invented ‘crimes.’ That, he endured. Now, however, he has been kidnapped, tortured, and sentenced to death under pretexts which are ridiculously flimsy even by pitiful Iranian standards. Sweden, which should be guaranteeing his freedom, has offered only a tepid response that will do nothing to stop his murder at the hands of the Iranian regime. Everything about this case should appall and infuriate anyone who believes in basic human rights and the rule of law, and it must be not only condemned but fought, publicly and privately, with everything in freedom-loving nations and individuals’ power.”

By Rahim Hamid

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

 

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