The Iranian regime’s Supreme Court upheld the convictions against six Ahwazi men sentenced to death following a grotesque kangaroo trial, with Amnesty International warning that the ruling means the six may be executed at any time.
The six men – Ali Mojadam, Moein Khanfari, Mohammad Reza Moghadam, Salem Mousavi, Adnan Ghobeishavi and Habib Deris – were sentenced to death in February on charges of “enmity to God”, with the only ‘evidence’ against them in a trial that lasted a matter of minutes being obviously coerced confessions.
The regime has escalated its executions in recent months in an effort to threaten and intimidate protesters across Iran from holding further anti-regime demonstrations, with the Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds, Balochis and other non-Persian ethnic minorities in the country doubly persecuted and dehumanised, not only for dissent but for their ethnicity. Hundreds of protesters have already been executed in 2023.
The Ahwazi Arab activists in exile, denied any effective media platform and voice to raise awareness of the six Ahwazi men’s plight, have launched a Tweetstorm under the tag #StopAhwaziExecutionsNow, tagging human rights groups in an effort to raise awareness and stop the executions.
The news of the six men’s imminent execution comes only six days after the regime executed Habib Chaab, a prominent Ahwazi political activist, in Tehran. Regime agents abducted Chaab, a Swedish citizen, three years ago in Turkey, smuggling him back to Iran and imprisoning him for almost three years, throughout which he was subjected to torture and coerced into making a ‘confession’ video broadcast on state TV, a common tactic used by the regime against dissidents.
Iran: Six Ahwazi Arabs at grave risk of execution – Amnesty International https://t.co/sQdEN548KR
— محمد مجيد الأحوازي (@MohamadAhwaze) May 12, 2023
Every year hundreds of Ahwazis are arrested for dissent; those ‘lucky’ enough not to be executed or sentenced to death on the basis of forced confessions extracted under torture are invariably sentenced to lengthy prison terms often for decades.
The former Chief of Police for Ahwaz, Haidar Abbaszadeh, on 22 September 2020, announced that the regime’s security services arrested around 1,250 Ahwazi accused of involvement in “separatist activities” between 2017 and 2020. Since this figure comes from the regime itself, however, the actual number is likely to be far higher.
Iran’s regime routinely uses several charges against Ahwazis, with supposedly credible international media unquestioningly and uncritically repeating the details given in the regime’s press releases, despite its widely acknowledged history of imprisoning dissidents, never reaching out to Ahwazis or other dissidents to ask about these cases, further helping the regime to slander the already oppressed Ahwazi people and devalue their just cause for freedom and human rights.
Speaking to DIRS, Irina Tsukerman, an American human rights and national security lawyer and journalist dedicated to actionable analysis, the Editor in Chief of The Washington Outsider, said, “Iran’s condemnation of the six Ahwazi Arabs is yet another challenge to the international community after the execution of Habib Chaab, as shameful to the alleged human rights defenders abroad as to the regime. Despite the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist entity by Sweden following that incident, not much has changed. We can see that from the muted reactions to the Amnesty report about the six Ahwazi. There has been no noise made by the media, and no political pressure campaigns picked up by Western countries. Even some of the usual anti-regime accounts are describing these executions merely as part of the ongoing regime execution spree, deliberately and conveniently leaving out that these Ahwazis have been singled out for execution due to their ethnic backgrounds and state bigotry that should shock the conscience of both the DEI crowd and those who criticise ethnicity-based segregation by state actors. Instead, everyone is turning a blind eye to the calamity that has befallen a particularly vulnerable community that has been successfully defamed as “separatist”, “terrorist”, and undeserving of independent support.”
Tsukerman added, “The human rights cause is dead. Unless every self-proclaimed activist and organisation is willing to proclaim that every human being, no matter the ethnic background, language, self-identification, or religion, is entitled to inalienable rights, these organised fundraising campaigns and moral finger-wagging are worthless, discredited, and actually only serve to embolden and empower authoritarian regimes worldwide. Shamefully, equally silent are the Arab states that had recently normalised Iran. They have quickly forgotten and discarded the Ahwazis as soon as their cause is no longer serving the purpose of the larger geopolitical game. No wonder there is so much distrust worldwide – all alliances are matters of ephemeral convenience, long-term interests, basic human values, and underlying strategic principles, have never been properly adopted in most of the world, and those who are supposed to lead the way, have long since jumped on the bandwagon of self-serving utilitarianism.”
Unfortunately, like Tehran’s efforts to impose a demographic change in Ahwaz, this wave of execution sentences upheld against Ahwazi Arab prisoners is not a new development or one limited to the current totalitarian regime. Since the formerly independent emirate of Ahwaz was first occupied militarily by Iran in 1925 under the rule of the then Shah, successive Iranian rulers have denied the rights of the Ahwazi people, changed the original Ahwazi names of towns, cities, villages and geographic features to Persian alternatives, and encouraged immigration by ethnic Persians in a bid to change the demographic balance and eradicate the region’s distinctively Arab character.
The regime, which refuses to acknowledge the Ahwazi Arab people’s claim to their historical territories in south and southwestern Iran and subjects them to relentless racist persecution, had targeted Chaab for a number of years over his membership and later leadership of the outlawed Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA. In an attempt to justify its actions, the regime charged him with being responsible for a 2018 armed attack on a parade by the regime’s infamous Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the regional capital, Ahwaz City, ignoring the fact that Chaab was in Sweden at the time and that ISIS had claimed responsibility for the attack almost immediately afterwards, even publishing photos of those it claimed were involved; it should also be noted that ISIS views the secular, democracy-oriented ASMLA as an enemy entity. Therefore, many believe that the 2019 attack on the IRGC parade was actually a regime’ black op’ intended to smear the Arab population as ISIS supporters in order to justify further repression in the region.
In the West, it’s largely still taken for granted that journalists will strive for independence and credibility in their reporting, checking facts and ensuring the reliability of their sources and claims. In free nations, journalists will go to great lengths for the sake of ensuring truth and pursuing justice, ‘speaking truth to power’. Unfortunately for the media in Ahwaz, as in the rest of Iran, this kind of journalistic integrity has no place, with news media being simply one more tool of the regime.
All the news agencies licensed to work in Ahwaz are affiliated with the regime’s intelligence services, with the Ministry of Intelligence ministry defining the issues to be covered and how they should be reported. As a result, these media outlets essentially act as regime mouthpieces, assisting the intelligence services by reporting false accusations as fact and justifying the regime’s vicious policies, rationalising its brutality and routine executions and slandering Ahwazis in order to falsify events and mislead the public. Even worse, due to the lack of any free and independent media – ruthlessly suppressed by the regime – many people believe these mouthpieces of the totalitarian state. For one example, these state media outlets never discuss or even acknowledge the existence of Ahwazi history and culture, of the region’s long heritage of poetry, literature and music, instead relentlessly promoting the message of Persian supremacism and glorification of the regime and of Persian historical figures.
The regime’s intelligence and security agencies and the Pan-Iranian nationalist extremist groups and media outlets which they control work closely together, coordinating to quickly quash any nascent organic movement promoting or raising awareness of Ahwazi culture or history. This process is a relentless form of cultural and ethnic oppression.
According to Friday’s report from Amnesty International on the Iranian court upholding the death sentence charges against the six men, all were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment by interrogators while held in IRGC detention centres for eight months following their arrests.
A number of sources, including a former Ahwazi detainee, Karim Borvayeh, who was imprisoned alongside some of the men in Sheiban prison in 2019 and 2020, told Amnesty International that the six Ahwazi Arab political prisoners were held in solitary confinement in these prisons where they were subjected to gruesome torture methods. To quote Amnesty’s report:
Interrogators subjected Ali Mojadam to six weeks of torture and other ill-treatment to force him to make “confessions”, which he refused until Revolutionary Guards agents arbitrarily detained his wife and son, who is under the age of 18, and threatened to keep them in detention until he “confessed” to everything they wanted. Sources said it was at this point Ali Mojadam told the agents, “Bring me a blank piece of paper, and I will write whatever you want”. The Revolutionary Guards subsequently released his wife and son but forced them to sign undertakings that they would not speak to the media. Ali Mojadam’s forced “confession” was subsequently broadcast prior to his trial, in violation of the presumption of innocence, in a propaganda video on state television. Ali Mojadam was held in solitary confinement for eight months. Interrogators blindfolded him and tied him to a bed that was next to an electrocution machine. They connected wires to both his ears and, while still blindfolded, moved his hand onto a dial on the machine and told him to move the dial with his fingers, which sent electric shocks with varying voltages to his body. In January 2021, he sewed his lips together and went on hunger strike in protest at being held in solitary confinement, being denied his fair trial rights, and constantly living under the threat of execution. While held in the Revolutionary Guards detention centre following his arrest, interrogators tied Habib Deris to a table with chains, put a wet towel over his face and subjected him to waterboarding by pouring water over the towel, causing him to suffocate. They hung him upside down and submerged his head into a large container filled with water, and beat him so severely with cables and pipes that his body was completely covered with blood and bruises, and his skin was peeling off. Agents gave him electric shocks to his fingertips and nipples. Karim Borvayeh told Amnesty International that he witnessed marks such as bruising on Habib Deris’ forehead, back, shoulder blades and feet.
These are not unusual methods or torture techniques for the regime, which is emboldened in its brutality by the lack of any meaningful action by the international community, whose ‘opposition’ is superficial and limited to weak statements of disapproval which are proved to be devoid of meaning by the same governments continuing to do business with the regime.
Without immediate action to force the regime to stop these executions, Ali Mojadam, Moein Khanfari, Mohammad Reza Moghadam, Salem Mousavi, Adnan Ghobeishavi and Habib Deris will soon become more victims of the Iranian regime’s endless extrajudicial killings and the world’s silent complicity.
BY Rahim Hamid Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. Hamid tweets under @Samireza42.