Report: Arab Minority Faces Discrimination

September 24, 2014
           Iran’s Arab minority has suffered from political, economic and cultural discrimination under multiple administrations, according to a new report by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. Arabs make up approximately two percent of Iran’s population of 80 million. But they are reportedly the majority in Khuzestan Province, which borders Iraq and the Persian Gulf.
            Arabs in the provincial capital Ahvaz and several towns held protests against Iran’s supreme leader in April 2011, following demonstrations across the Arab world. Widespread arrests and repression of political activists has further deteriorated relations between the minority and the central government. The following are excerpts from the report on two of the most recent confrontations between Arab protestors and the government.
 
The April 2005 Intifazeh
 
            On April 15, 2005, the Arab residents of Ahvaz took to the streets to protest a leaked memorandum ostensibly from the office of the President of the IRI that set forth a policy aimed at changing the ethnic makeup of the province.[63]
 
            The memorandum outlined measures meant to encourage the migration of Iranian citizens of Persian and Turkish ethnicities to Khuzestan province as well as the emigration of Arabs and the systematic replacement of Arabic place names with Persian equivalents. This official document bore the name and signature of Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a former chief of staff and Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs in the government of then-President Mohammad Khatami.
 
            The protests quickly expanded beyond the control of those who had originally organized them.[64] Kathem Mojaddam, an Islamic Wefagh Party activist and one of the organizers of the April 2005 protests, recalls that several banks in Ahvaz had their windows smashed. As the protests expanded to neighboring cities and counties other property was also subjected to sabotage.[65] During this escalation,[66] Abtahi quickly dismissed the document as a forgery.[67] Abtahi suggested that Khatami’s domestic political rivals had forged the document to diminish the high level of support for the reformist movement among Arabs, demonstrated by the results of previous local elections.[68]
 
            While some endorse this theory,[69] many do not accept Abtahi’s denial. There is widespread sentiment that whether or not the document was genuine, and whether or not it was correctly attributed to Abtahi and officials from the IRI’s reformist movement, it outlined a policy that had already been in place for years—and that continues to function to this day.[70]
Over the course of the next two weeks, much of Khuzestan was rocked by what has since been dubbed by locals as the intifazeh.[71] IRI authorities—on instructions from Tehran—cracked down on the populace. According to multiple sources, “dozens” of protesters were killed[72] and an estimated 250-360 people were arrested[73]—including many Ahwazi Arabs who had not participated in any acts of sabotage or even in the peaceful protests that had taken place in the region.[74]
 
            Ahwazi Arab families have continued to suffer long after the deaths of protesters. The families of many who participated in the 2005 protests still endure routine harassment, arrests and violence at the hands of the IRI’s security services. Kathem Mojaddam’s wife returns to Iran annually and is regularly summoned by the local Intelligence Office for interrogation.[78]
 
            The intifazeh has taken on a significant historical importance among Arabs from the region. The IRI also tightened security in the province and quickly expelled foreign journalists that reported on the April 2005 unrest.[79] The experiences of many witnesses indicate that for several years after the April 2005 protests, arrests, interrogations, and convictions of Arabs in Khuzestan and elsewhere in Iran referenced the protests and the unrest that followed.[80]
 
Ahvaz Bombings of 2005-06 and the ensuing reprisals
 
            A few days before the June 2005 presidential election, at least four consecutive bombs exploded in Ahvaz in the space of three hours.[81] Government offices and the homes and headquarters of state employees were the apparent intended targets. There were at least 11 reported fatalities and scores injured.  A couple of hours after the first bomb went off in Ahvaz, a bomb went off in Tehran as well, killing two persons.
 
            Successive bombs went off in Ahvaz in October 2005, January 2006, February 2006 and March 2006. The security crackdown that had followed the April 2005 unrest intensified. The IRI authorities blamed a range of alleged perpetrators including the Mujahedin-e Khalq, separatist groups like the Ahwazi Arab Peoples Democratic Popular Front and even foreign elements including the governments and armed forces of the UK, the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the Shell Oil Company for the attacks.
 
            Despite the IRI’s allegations of foreign involvement, most of the individuals detained on suspicion of the bombings were residents of Ahvaz. While some of those arrested were avowed separatists with links to militant groups, others blamed for the attacks were ethnic Arab citizens who played a prominent role in local politics and who had no history of militant activity or support for militant causes. Many detainees were arrested on the basis of very little evidence and reported being subjected to physical and mental torture while in detention and being denied contact with their family and access to counsel.
 
Continuing political marginalization: the April 2011 Protests
 
            Following the unrest in Ahvaz in 2005-2006, the province of Khuzestan came under increasing security control.  While the 2005 protest events were commemorated annually, the next major period of unrest occurred six years later.
 
            On April 15, 2011, as the world watched the protests collectively dubbed the “Arab Spring”, Arab activists using Facebook organized a protest. The protest erupted against the backdrop of the arrests of 16 Arab cultural activists (three of whom are currently on death row, two of whom were executed at the end of January 2014).
 
            Many Arabs in Ahvaz, Abadan, Khorramshahr, Hamidieh, Mahshahr and Shadegan took to the streets in what was dubbed a “Day of Rage” to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the 2005 protests.[82] Multiple sources allege the use of live ammunition to suppress the 2011 protests, and additionally that security services had begun raids against suspected organizers the day before the protests began.[83] Reports indicated that as many as 15 protesters were killed by security services and police during protests, with “tens” injured and “hundreds” arrested.[84]
 
            One report indicated that as many as 150 protesters were arrested, including 30 women, and that one protester died not as a result of live ammunition fire but from suffocation after inhaling Russian-made tear gas that was fired into the crowds.[85]
 
            Other reports indicated that nine protesters arrested in connection with the protests were executed within a month—three in public at Hamidieh junction and another six in prisons.[86]
 
            Another protest took place on June 21, 2012 in Ahvaz. At least 15 protesters were arrested on the same day,[87] and protests following the death of Arab poet Sattar al-Siahi[88] also occasioned another province-wide crackdown by IRI security services, during which it is alleged that nearly thirty people were arrested.[89]
 
            Five Arab cultural activists who founded and were leading members of al-Hiwar, the Arab cultural group established during Mohammad Khatami’s reformist presidency, were arrested in the April 2011 protests. They later received death sentences and were incarcerated in Karun prison. The five men—Mohammad Ali Amouri, Sayed Jaber Alboshoka, his brother Sayed Mokhtar Alboshoka, Hashem Sha’baninejad Amouri and Hadi Rashedi—were convicted of muharibih, or “warring against God” for allegedly killing a law enforcement official.
 
            Their death sentences, as confirmed by Iran’s Supreme Court in January 2013, are the most recent manifestation of the negative trend in relations between the Iranian state and the Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority.[90] The men were nominated for the 2013 Civil Courage Prize.[91] At the end of January 2014, Hashem Sha’baninejad Amouri and Hadi Rashedi were executed in secret, without any prior notice to their families.[92]
 
Click here for the full report.
 
Click here for more information on Iran's ethnic minorities.
 
[75] Nirou-ye Entezami Jomhouri Eslami (NAJA), the force responsible for general policing throughout Iran. See their official website at: http://news.police.ir/. See Yegane Zede Shoresh Naja [Anti-Riot Police Unit], Iranian Engineers’ Club, http://www.iran-eng.com/showthread.php/322598-یگان-ضد-شورش-ناجا for photographs of the NAJA anti-riot forces. See also,Mamurāni Yigāni Vyzhi Ᾱmuzishi Zedi Shurish Mybynand [Special Units Officers Trained of Specific Anti Rebellion], Qudsonline(July 12, 2014), available at http://www.ghatreh.com/news/nn10353863/ماموران-یگان-ویژه-اموزش-ضدشورش-بینند. 
[76] IHRDC Interview with Kamil Alboshoka (Sept, 27, 2012) (on file with IHRDC).             
[77] IHRDC Interview with Hadi Batili (Oct. 8, 2012) (on file with IHRDC).
[78] Id.
[79] Cycle of Repression and Protest: Iranian Arabs in Khuzestan, Frontline (June 16, 2012, 18:32),  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2012/07/comment-cycle-of-repression-and-protest-iranian-arabs-in-khuzestan.html.
[80] IHRDC Interview with Kamil Alboshoka (Sept. 27, 2012); IHRDC Interview with Yousef Azizi Bani Torof (Sep. 29, 2012); IHRDC Witness Statement of Saied Alboghbaysh (Sept. 25, 2012), available at: http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/witness-testimony/1000000371-witness-statement-of-saied-alboghbaysh.html; IHRDC Interview with Ahmad Hamid (Jan. 8, 2012) (on file with IHRDC)
[81] See Akharin Akhbar az Enfejarhay-i Emrouz-i Ahvaz, [Latest news of today bombing in Ahvaz], Farsnews, 22 Khordad 1384, (June 12, 2005), available at: http://www.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=8403220224. According to this report, four bombs went off between 8 am and 11 am.  The first bomb went off at 8 am, the second bomb at 10:30 am, the third bomb at 10:50 am and the fourth bomb at 11 am.
[82] Golnaz Esfandiari, Iran’s Nobel Laureate Ebadi Warns of Unrest Among Ethnic Arabs in Iran, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Apr. 19, 2011), http://www.rferl.org/content/iran_nobel_ebadi_warns_unrest_ethnic_arabs_in_iran/9498400.html.
[83] Iran: Outside the Spotlight, Arab Uprising Smolders in Country’s Southwest, Los Angles Times (Apr. 30, 2011), http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2011/04/iran-ahvaz-protests-violence-human-rights-arab-seperatism.html.
[84] See Widespread Detention of Ahwazi Activists Mark Anniversary of 2005 Crackdown, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (Apr. 19, 2012), http://www.iranhumanrights.org/2012/04/ahwaz-crackdown/. See also, Iran: Investigate Reported Killings of Demonstrators, Human Rights Watch (Apr. 29, 2011), http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/04/29/iran-investigate-reported-killings-demonstrators.
[85] 4 Koshteh va daha Bazdashti Dar Dargiriyhaye Shadid Mardom Ahwaz Ba Nirohaye Amniyati [4 Dead and Tens Injured During the Heavy Fights of Ahwazi People with the Security Forces], AlArabiya (Apr. 14, 2011), http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/04/14/145420.html.
[86] Only One Month to Find, Sentence and Execute Suspects, Says Ahwazi Activist, International Campaign For Human Rights in Iran (May 16, 2011), http://www.iranhumanrights.org/2011/05/ahwaz-suspects-execute/.
[87] See Widespread Detentions of Ahwazi Activists Mark Anniversary of 2005 Crackdown, International Campaign For Human Rights in Iran (Apr. 19, 2012), http://www.iranhumanrights.org/2012/04/ahwaz-crackdown/. See also, Iran: Investigate Reported Killings of Demonstrators, Human Rights Watch (Apr. 29, 2014) http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/04/29/iran-investigate-reported-killings-demonstrators. See also, Ebadi Draws UN Attention Crackdown to Crackdown on Protests in Ahvaz, Radio Zamaneh (Apr. 18, 2011, 16:09),http://www.radiozamaneh.com/english/content/ebadi-draws-un-attention-crackdown-protests-ahvaz?page=2.  
[88] Although he was not in custody when he died, some Arab activists allege that Al-Siyahi died as a result of physical torture that he endured during interrogations at the Ahvaz Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MOIS) office the previous week. See, Satar Al Siyahi, Hamaseh Saraye Ahwazi Dargozasht [Satar Al Siyahi, Epic Ahwazi Died], Iranglobal (Nov. 12, 2012), http://www.iranglobal.info/node/12098.
[89] Iran: 29 Arrested in Ahvaz, El-Yasin, Human Rights and International Affairs (Nov. 20, 2012), http://ayahra.org/en/news/1360-iran-29-arrested-in-ahvaz.html.
[90] Death Sentences for Five Ahwazi Arabs Upheld by Iran’s Supreme Court, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/news/inside-iran/1000000226-death-sentences-for-five-ahwazi-arabs-upheld-by-iran’s-supreme-court.html.
[91] Fa’alane Arab Mahkom Beh Edam, Kandidaye Jayezeh Beinolmelali Shoja’at Madani Shod/Anha Dar Etesabe Ghaza Be Sar Mibarand [Arab Activists Sentenced to Death, Were Nominated for the Award for Civil Courage/ They Are On a Hunger Strike], Justice For Iran (Mar. 17, 2013), http://justiceforiran.org/news/courage-award/?lang=en.
[92] IRI Executes Two Ahwazi Arab Men, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (Jan. 31, 2014), http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/news/press-statements/1000000428-iri-executes-two-ahwazi-arab-men.html#.U0G70sfgXEs.