Iran uses intimidation to deter Arab protests

May 24, 2012 4:43 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

The Iranian regime is using racist propaganda, intimidation and violent repression to deter protests by its persecuted Arab citizens. It has imposed martial law and resorted to arrests, imprisonment, torture and extra-judicial killings to suppress mass demonstrations.

Ahwazi Arabs have staged anti-government protests every April since 2005, the date of the Ahwazi intifada that saw scores killed and hundreds arrested by the Iranian regime. The protests in April 2011 were the strongest since 2005, encouraged by the April Spring revolutions that toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen and rocked the Iranian-allied Assad regime in Syria.

This year, the Tehran government prepared well in advance to preempt any uprising; rounding up prominent members of the Ahwazi community, killing some under torture, broadcasting forced confessions on its international Press TV network and imposing martial law on Arab-majority districts. Around 100 people were arrested in the run-up to the planned protests last month, according to the Ahwaz Centre for Human Rights, in a clear attempt to intimidate the Arab population.

The Iranian media distributed pro-regime propaganda to provide a justification for the violent repression of Arabs in the weeks leading up to the April 2005 intifada anniversary. In March 2012, the state-controlled Press TV broadcast a documentary which used political prisoners, who had been detained for months in secret prisons without charge or trial, to construct an outlandish conspiracy theory. Ahwazi Arabs were portrayed as “simple people with simple minds” and therefore vulnerable to mysterious “mind termination” brain washing techniques that turned them into violent unthinking killers. The documentary narrator talked of ideas instilled by the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, being “grounded firmly into the Arab psyche”; implying that Arabs are an enemy within and inherently untrustworthy. Such racist assumptions have underpinned the regime’s policy of discrimination against Arab citizens and are also used to justify violent repression. The documentary infantilised Arabs, suggesting that unrest in the region is due to Arab tribes fighting each other “to secure their interests” rather being as a result of the regime’s harsh persecution of Arab people. A previous documentary, broadcast by Press TV in December 2011, aired forced confessions from three Ahwazi Arabs following months of incarceration in a secret Ministry of Intelligence detention centre.

Some of those shown in the TV reports are among those facing execution. In March, Amnesty International sent out an appeal on behalf of five Ahwazi Arabs, including three brothers, their cousin and another man, who were believed to be at imminent risk of execution after their death sentences were upheld by the Supreme Court. Amnesty warned that the death sentences were apparently intended to deter 15 April mass demonstrations.

Meanwhile, at least two young Ahwazis – Nasser Derafshan Alboshokeh and Mohammad al-Ka’bi – arrested by the security forces in January were killed under torture following a round-up of Arab youth, teachers and others. Nineteen year-old Alboshokeh had been rushed to hospital with a broken neck and torture wounds but was confirmed dead. Al-Ka’bi’s death sparked huge protests in his home town Shush, but the authorities refused to return his body and instead buried it in order to prevent further disclosure of the torture he’d suffered.

As security operations began and martial law was enforced in March and April, targeting the restive Hay al-Thawra district of Ahwaz City in particular, the regime imposed a media blackout.

Deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, Joe Stork, said: “Security operations in Khuzestan province since protests there last April have resulted in the largest number of deaths and injuries since the crackdown that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election. With the province under an information blackout and the history of secret convictions and executions, we have reason to be very worried about the people the authorities have been snatching up and carrying off there.”

Protests did take place in some districts such as Hay al-Thawra, Hamidiya, Kut-Abdullah and Zewiyah with protesters carrying banners and Ahwazi flags, but were quickly put down by the regime. In one disturbing development, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards besieged the Shohada High School in Amaniyah district after some Arab children hoisted the Ahwazi flag in the school. Children were detained and interrogated for days while their parents were denied access to them.

The consequences of the repression of protests will be felt for many months, with activists expecting more show trials and executions. These deaths will be in vain if the international community and the global media continue to ignore the plight of the long suffering Ahwazi Arabs.

Dan Brett is Director of the Ahwazi Arab Solidarity Network:


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This post was written by Dan Brett

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