As in the Venezuela crisis, Donald Trump, the great enthusiast for dictators, is making a cynical pretense of concern for democracy in Iran. Fortunately, his latest bit of exploitation of the Iranian protesters has blown up in his face. Noting the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, he issued a tweet yesterday featuring a meme with an image of a student protester from the 2017 anti-austerity uprising and the words: "40 years of corruption. 40 years of repression. 40 years of terror. The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure. The long-suffering Iranian people deserve a much brighter future." He also tweeted the same message in the Persian language. Today, the courageous photographer who snapped the image at the University of Tehran in December 2017, Yalda Moayeri, comes forward to express her outrage at its co-optation by Trump, telling the New York Times: "I felt cheated and abused, it causes me great sorrow to see the man who is inflicting so much pain upon me and my compatriots to use my image for his own agenda. I did not take this risk to have someone using it to pressure us Iranians even further." She added: "His sanctions are devastating our lives. Our money became worthless. People are becoming poor. Because of his travel ban, many Iranians cannot visit their family members in the United States. My father lives there and I can't go either. I just don't want to be any part of his agenda against Iran."
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)
The "buffer zone" through Syria's northern Idlib province, negotiated by Russia and Turkey to forestall an Assad regime offensive on the opposition-held portion of the province, officially takes effect this week. Rebels began withdrawing heavy weapons from the zone at the start of the month, but said that fighters are remaining. Fighters from designated "radical terrorist groups"—primarily Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)—are supposed to withdraw entirely from the zone. HTS initially said it would comply on a "de facto" basis, but the zone is being implemented despite the fact that a deadline has been missed for withdrawal of all its fighters. The zone, some 20 kilometers wide, stretches from Latakia to Aleppo, through Idlib and portions of Hama province. (See map.) (Qantara, Oct. 17; AFP, Oct. 10; BBC News, Oct. 8; EA Worldview, Oct. 7) But Bashar Assad insisted that the so-called "demilitarized zone" is temporary. Addressing the central committee of his Baath Party, Assad reiterated his pledge to retake "every inch" of Syrian territory: "This province and other Syrian territory remaining under the control of terrorists will return to the Syrian state." (EA Worldview, Oct. 8)
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."
After all the talk we've heard in recent years about how depressed oil prices are now permanent, in the wake of Trump's announced withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal Bank of America is predicting that the price of Brent crude could go as high as the once-dreaded $100 per barrel in 2019. The report also cited collapsing production in Venezuela due to the crisis there. Brent prices have risen above $77 per barrel since Trump's announcement. Prices have jumped more than 8% over the past month and 15% since the beginning of the year. According to the analysis, investors fear that renewed sanctions on Iran could lead to supply disruptions. (CNNMoney, May 10) Although the report failed to mention it, the Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets in Syria have doubtless contributed to the jitters.
Abdul-Al Duraqi, a poet and activist from the Ahwazi Arab minority in Iran, arrested during the most recent protests in the city of Ahwaz (Khuzestan province), has been hospitalized after torture sessions at the hands of his interrogators. Family members told the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization (AHRO) that Duraqi was transferred to Ahwaz's Sepidar hospital on April 7 due to deterioration in his physical condition after severe torture in the Ahwaz intelligence center. Duraqi is revered in his community for keeping alive an Ahwazi literary tradition in the Arabic language. Protests in Ahwaz were sparked in mid-March following the controversial exclusion of the Ahwazi Arab ethnicity in a children's program aired by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Corporation. The program included a boy placing dolls dressed in the traditional garb of different ethnicities in their designated regions on a map of Iran—but there was no doll representing the 8 million Ahwazi Arabs. Nearly 400 have been arrested in protests over the past month. AHRO charges that the detained are being denied their due process rights. (UNPO, April 12; UNPO, March 29; AHRO, April 9)