Rights advocates in Iran's Khuzestan province, homeland of the marginalized Ahwazi Arab people, report another wave of sweeps and incommunicado detention of local activists. Agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on Dec. 11 detained Zeinab Sawari, a teacher and prominent Ahwazi advocate for women's and children's rights. Sawari's younger siblings were also detained when they came to her defense during the raid on the family's home in Neysan district of Howeyzeh shahrestan (county). Agents simultaneously raided the nearby home of their aunt, Fatema Sawari. Zeinab Sawari had recently been involved in fundraising to help victims of the severe flooding that devastated the region both this year and in 2019. Both Zeinab and Fatema Sawari remain in detention at an undisclosed location.
Another one to file under #OrwellWouldShit. The UN General Assembly has elected China to the Human Rights Council—despite the country holding some one million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps. China was supported by 139 of the 191 nations that voted, and was one of 16 nations that sought the 15 available seats. (The General Assembly also elected Russia, Cuba, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, all similarly accused of human rights violations, if not quite such ambitious ones.) US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the election of countries with "abhorrent human rights records," stating: "These elections only further validate the US decision to withdraw and use other venues and opportunities to protect and promote universal human rights." The US left the Human Rights Council in June 2018. (Jurist)
In a meeting hosted by the Yazidi autonomous territory of Ezidikhan in northern Iraq last month, representatives of tribal peoples and ethnic minorities from across the Middle East and North Africa agreed on a framework for a region-wide alliance of stateless nations struggling for self-determination and autonomy. The meeting at the Ezidikhan seat of Shingal (also rendered Sinjar) was attended by representatives of the Mandaeans and Zoroastrians as well as Yazidis. Messages of support were also sent by the Shabaks of Iraq, Ahwazi Arabs of Iran, Berbers of Libya, and Palestinian Bedouins residing in the state of Israel. Delegates announced formation of a Confederation of Indigenous Nations of the Middle East open to all stateless peoples of the region. "We are are expecting even more indigenous nations to sign on," said Ezidikhan Minister of Justice Nallein Sowilo. She noted that the Kawliya and Yarsanis, whose territory is divided between Iraq and Iran, have also expressed interest in joining. "We are all natural allies. That is why we call this an alliance of First Peoples. We represent the Middle East's ancient heritage of ethnic and religious diversity."
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)