President Bush justifies his imposition of sanctions against Iran on the grounds that Tehran supports the insurgency in Iraq and is seeking nuclear weapons. Not a word from Washington about the way the Iranian regime is abusing the human rights of its own people. Bush doesn’t care about their fate. In this sense, he mirrors the Iranian state.
The charge sheet against Tehran includes the probably true allegation that it is supplying Iraqi insurgents with weapons that are being used to kill US soldiers. But it doesn’t include any mention of Tehran’s murder of its own citizens. Surprise. Surprise.
US policy on Iran is dictated primarily by selfish geo-political interests. Concern about terrorism and nuclear weapons is, in part, a populist cover. It disguises a secret neo-imperial agenda. Washington’s real goal is to extend its sphere of influence, remove a non-compliant regime and guarantee its access to already diminishing global oil supplies (of which Iran holds about 10% of the world’s known reserves).
The latest human rights abuses by Tehran are the secret, rigged trials and the imminent execution of six more ethnic Arab Iranians (Ahwazi Arabs) in Ahwaz, the provincial capital of Khuzestan in south-western Iran – homeland to five million Arabs.
The news of their impending executions has been smuggled out of Iran by the men’s families and is corroborated the Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Amnesty International, the Human Rights & Democracy Activists group and by the inadvertent admissions of Khuzestan’s prosecutor, Musa Pirbani.
The planned executions are the latest in a series of executions of ethnic Arabs by the racist Iranian state. The most recent hangings occurred on 10 September, when three Ahwazi Arab political prisoners were executed. They were put to death just days after the visit to Iran by Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in what appeared to be a calculated defiance of the UN’s expressed concern regarding the oppression of Ahwazi Arabs.
The six men currently awaiting execution in Karoon prison, in Ahwaz city, have been moved to a special “death cell” which is reserved for prisoners scheduled for imminent execution.
Their names are: Rasoul Ali Mazrea (65), a UNHCR-registered refugee; Ahmad Marmazi (35), a resident of Ma’shur, father of two children; Hamzah Sawari, 20 years old; Zamel Bawi (son of the Ahwazi Arab tribal leader Hajj Salem Bawi); Abdulemam Zaeri and Nazem Boryhi.
Rasoul Mazrea, along with four other Ahwazi Arabs, was illegally deported by the Syrian government to Iran in May 2006. He is a mandate-holding, UNHCR-recognised political refugee. As a UN-protected person at risk of persecution in Iran, his forced deportation to Tehran was unlawful under international law.
The charges against the six death row inmates include hoisting the Ahwazi Arab flag, naming their children by Sunni names, converting from Shi’ism to Sunnism, and being “Mohareb” or enemies of god, which carries a death sentence. Other charges are “destabilising the country”, “attempting to overthrow the government”, “possession of improvised explosives”, “sabotage of oil installations” and being a “threat to national security.”
Last year, Emadeddin Baghi, a leading Iranian human rights activist, in aletter to the chief of the judiciary, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, argued that the conduct of the trials of Ahwazi Arabs were flawed, the main charges baseless, that no adequate evidence of their guilt had been presented, and that even if they were guilty of the charges laid against them, the charges did not warrant a death sentence under Iranian law.
For defending Arabs, according to the letter of the law, Baghi has himself now been arrested on charges of revealing “state secrets”.
These “secrets” include the fact that Baghi has named a man who has provided evidence that has been used against Arabs in 39 different trials. The defendants have claimed that he encouraged them to engage in a bombing campaign. The implication is that he was a police spy and agent provocateur, designated to entrap targeted Arab nationalists so they could be tried and executed. Even though this person’s evidence involves admissions that he offered to provide explosives, he has never been prosecuted.
Baghi also committed the unpardonable “crime” of arguing that the Arabs previously executed were never actually directly involved in any bomb attacks but merely talked about violent insurrection or may have had some potential bomb components in their houses. He stressed that even if these allegations were true, these are not offences that carry a death sentence under the Iranian penal code.
These are, apparently, the “state secrets” that Baghi is accused of revealing.
Baghi is a highly respected former newspaper editor. He comes from a family of religious clerics and is a supporter of the Islamic system in Iran, albeit one who advocates democratic reform.
He dared to challenge the regime when it broke its own laws and when it perpetrated injustices against Ahwazi Arabs. His punishment? Summary indefinite detention. The treatment of Baghi shows that the regime acts in contravention of it own aws.
Emadeddin Baghi is not the only person to highlight the victimisation of Ahwazi Arabs and to speak out against their execution. Others have condemned the trials as unfair and appealed for a halt to further executions, including the presidency of the European Council, the UN General Assembly, 48 British MPs, the EU Parliament, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.
This new wave of executions is the latest in a series of cruel, barbaric, slow-strangulation hangings, designed to intimidate and terrorise the indigenous Ahwazi Arab population into submission.
On 10 January 2007, independent experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Philip Alston, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Leandro Despouy, the special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and Manfred Nowak, the special rapporteur on torture, issued a joint statement urging the Iranian government to “stop the imminent execution of seven men belonging to the Ahwazi Arab minority and grant them a fair and public hearing”.
Despite their plea, on 14 February 2007, Ghasem Salami (41), married with six children, and Majad Albughbish (30), single, were executed in Ahwaz by public hanging. A day later, Risan Sawari, a 32-year-old Ahwazi-Arab teacher, was killed under torture in Karoon prison.
This is in addition to four executions on 24 January 2007 (Mohammad Chaabpour, Abdolamir Farjolah Chaab, Alireza Asakereh and Khalaf Khanafereh); and three previous executions on 19 December 2006 (Malek Banitamim, Abdullah Solaimani and Ali Matorizadeh).
This brings the number of executions of Ahwazi Arab political and human rights activists in the past nine months to at least 13.
The executions are taking place in the context of a brutal clamp-down on Ahwazi Arabs who dare to protest against racism and ethnic persecution. Although the Ahwazi Arab homeland in Iran’s Khuzestan province is one of the most oil-rich regions in the world and produces around 90% of Iran’s oil production, the local population endures near-African levels of poverty, malnutrition, slum housing, unemployment and illiteracy. Arabs are subjected to political repression, racial discrimination, land confiscation, forced displacement and compulsory assimilation. Their peaceful protests, trade unions, newspapers and political parties have been banned. The Persian majority treat the Ahwazi Arabs as second class citizens, as little more than chattels.
Tehran’s neo-colonial and racist policies towards its Arab minority are well documented in a recent human rights report. These anti-Arab policies are tantamount to ethnic cleansing. You can also watch my TV interview with Karim Abdian, executive director of the Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation, where he reveals the barbaric ill-treatment of Ahwazi Arabs by the Persian supremacists in Tehran.
I am part of a new campaign group, Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI), which opposes both a US war on Iran and the tyranny of the Iranian regime. My motto is: “Neither Washington nor Tehran!”
I recently interviewed Mark Fischer of HOPI and Yassamine Mather of Workers Left Unity Iran. You can watch the interview here. They expose Tehran’s generalised assault on the human rights of women, students, workers, gays and minority nationalities – not just the Arab minority, but also the Kurds and Baluchs.
A war against Iran would be another disastrous neo-imperial adventure, which would strengthen the Tehran dictatorship. President Ahmadinejad would play the patriot and manipulate nationalism to rally the population behind him. He would use a US military attack as an excuse to further crack down on dissent in the name of safeguarding national security.
The overthrow of the theocratic police state by the Iranian people – not by US military intervention – is the best way to resolve the nuclear crisis and prevent a needless, unjustified war. With no dictatorship in Tehran, President Bush and the neocons would lose the rationale for a military strike against Iran.