Following the mass sweeps of Ahwazi Arabs in Iran's Khuzestan province in the wake of a September terror attack in capital city Ahwaz, reports are mounting of horrific torture used against activists detained in secret prisons or "black sites." Anonymous activists on the ground in Khuzestan spoke to a researcher writing for the Canada-based Dur Untash Studies Center, which closely monitors the Ahwazi struggle. Among the cases vividly described is that of Ali Hilichi, who was detained by intelligence agents at the carwash where he worked in Ahwaz in November 2018, accused of participating in recent public demonstrations. He was kept in solitary confinement and subject to torture for weeks before being released at the end of December. His wife said that when he was freed his body was covered in bruises and welts, adding that he could not take a shower or sleep on his back due to the pain from his injuries. He still suffers from nightmares, crying out in his sleep, "Don't beat me…give me water."
The Iranian regime reportedly hanged 22 Ahwazi Arabs in a 72-hour period last week, after arresting over 1,000 in mass sweeps across Khuzestan province. The executed are said to include a 58-year-old man, who was hanged along with his son aged 30. According to human rights activists in the region, the victims' families were summoned to local regime Intelligence Ministry headquarters to be informed of their loved ones' execution, and were warned against holding any funereal rites or ceremonies. The bodies had apparently been buried in unmarked graves. The victims were accused of "acting against national security," but the executions seemingly took place after summary trials with no legal representation, behind closed doors at Ahwaz Central Prison. At least 500 arrested in the sweeps remain detained, and there are fears that more summary executions could be imminent.
Iran's government has unleashed a wave of arrests in western Khuzestan province since the Sept. 22 deadly attack on a military parade in the city of Ahwaz, with sweeps targetting dissidents, journalists, intellectuals, human rights activists and members of the Ahwazi Arab minority generally. Some 1,000 Ahwazis have been arrested in the weeks since the attack, with at least 600 still being detained. Many of the detained have been taken to unknown destinations, with their families denied any contact or even information on their whereabouts. Local rights groups report that security forces have raided activists' homes, and the detained include women and the elderly. Karim Dahimi, an Ahwazi human rights worker based in London, said that the Iranian government has been systematically detaining Ahwazi activists in clandestine torture facilities known as "black sites." Ahwazi Arabs in the international diaspora have been holding demonstrations at Iranian consulates demanding an end to the regime's anti-Arab racism and repression. (The Herald Report, Oct. 24)
Eight environmental activists arbitrarily detained in Iran in January and February remain in detention eight months later without clear charges, Human Rights Watch said Oct. 11. The organization called upon Iranian authorities to either immediately release them or charge them with recognizable crimes and produce evidence to justify their continued detention. On Sept. 30, family members said on social media that judicial authorities had told them that the detained environmentalists can only be represented by lawyers from a pre-approved list of 20 that the judiciary had published in June. Authorities have not allowed the detainees access to lawyers of their choice, or set a trial date. "Iran's judiciary is again highlighting its role as key functionaries in a repressive state machinery rather than defenders of justice," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Even though the environmentalists have spent eight months in pre-trial detention, the authorities have still not come up with a criminal charge against them."
At least 24 people, including 12 Revolutionary Guards, were killed and more than 60 were wounded when gunmen attacked a military parade Sept. 22 in the city of Ahvaz, capital of Iran's restive southwestern province of Khuzestan. A representative of the Iranian armed forces said the attack was carried out by four "terrorists," adding that security forces were in possession of the bodies of three of them and had taken the fourth into custody. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed "a foreign regime" backed by the United States for the attack, which left at least eight troops and several civilians dead. "Terrorists recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime have attacked Ahvaz," Zarif stated. "Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable for such attacks."
Iran's northern Kurdish region was effectively shut down by a civic strike that began Sept. 12, with most businesses and markets closed. The strike was called to protest the executions of six Kurdish militants and air-strikes on the headquarters of Iranian-Kurdish opposition parties across the border in Iraq. The missile strikes on the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) in town of Koya, outside Erbil, left at least 15 dead and several wounded Sept. 9. The air-strikes were claimed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in a statement that called the parties "terrorist" groups. The civic strike was called by the Coordination Center of Rojhelat, an umbrella group that includes the KDPI, PDKI, Komala and other Iranian Kurdish parties. "The criminal regime of the Islamic Republic added a new black page of its history of crimes and barbarism against the Kurdish nation," read the statement by the Coordination Center. Rojhelat (East) is the Kurdish word for Iranian Kurdistan. (Rudaw, Kurdistan24, Al Arabiya, RFE/RL)
Amnesty International on Sept. 4 called for the release of Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, detained since June, and her husband Reza Khandan, who was arrested this week. Reza Khandan was charged by Tehran’s Office of the Prosecutor with spreading propaganda against the system, colluding to commit crimes against national security, and promoting the practice of appearing in public without a veil. Khandan had raised concerns on Facebook about human rights violations in Iran and also publicly campaigned for the release of his wife. Amnesty International director for the Middle East and North Africa, Philip Luther said, "These callous actions illustrate the lengths to which Iranian authorities will go to silence human rights lawyers, even targeting their families." Currently, Sotoudeh is on a hunger strike in prison to protest the arrest of civil rights activists and the harassment of her family and friends by police forces. On Aug. 22, 60 members of the European Parliament sent a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to express concern over Sotoudeh’s imprisonment.
US President Donald Trump issued an executive order Aug. 6 reimposing certain sanctions against Iran. In a press statement, the White House criticized the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of July 2015, signed by Iran, Germany, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the EU. The US withdrew from the JCPOA in May, prompting a legal challenge from Iran before the International Court of Justice. The White House stated that JCPOA "threw a lifeline of cash to a murderous dictatorship that has continued to spread bloodshed, violence, and chaos." The administration claims Iran used monies freed by the JCPOA to fund nuclear-capable missiles, terrorism, and to support the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.