20 August 2007
Iran is a racist, imperialist state, which is ethnically cleansing its Ahwazi Arab population. Tehran is using sham trials, torture, executions, cultural colonialism, forced re-locations and mass impoverishment to subjugate its Arab population. The south-west Arab region of Iran is the richest in oil, but has African levels of malnutrition, slums, illiteracy and unemployment. Dr Karim Abdian, Director of the Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation discusses the persecution of his people with Peter Tatchell.
Peter Tatchell writes:
More than 50 Ahwazi Arab activists have been charged with insurgency since 2005. They are accused of being “Mohareb” or “enemies of god,” which is punishable by death. Other allegations include sabotage and possession of home-made bombs. No material evidence has been offered to support the charges. All the accused are at risk of execution. Already, over a dozen activists have been hanged in recent months.
Most Ahwazis believe the activists were framed. Their real ‘crime’ is campaigning against Tehran’s political repression and economic exploitation of their oil-rich homeland.
One of Iran’s leading human rights activists, Emadeddin Baghi, said that recent trials of Ahwazi Arabs were flawed, the charges baseless, and that the sentencing relied on a spurious interpretation of the law. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also condemned their trials as unjust and unfair.
Tehran has recently stooped to taking Ahwazi children hostage. According to Amnesty International, kids as young as two years old have been jailed with their mothers, in a bid to force their political activist fathers, who are on the run and in hiding, to surrender to the police and submit themselves to execution.
Protests against Tehran’s anti-Arab abuses are brutally suppressed. Since April 2005, 25,000 Ahwazis have been arrested, 131 killed and 150 have disappeared, reports the Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation (AHRO).
Ahwazi political parties, trade unions and student groups are illegal. Arab candidates have been barred from standing for election.
Tehran has a secret plan to resolve ‘the Arab problem’ by making Arabs a minority in their own land through ‘ethnic restructuring.’ The plan is to cut the Arab population in Ahwaz from over two-thirds of the total to under one-third. To achieve this, it encourages ethnic Persians to settle in the region by offering financial incentives, such as zero-interest loans, and by building new modern townships to house 500,000 non-Arab incomers. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of displaced Arabs have been forcibly relocated to poverty-stricken far-flung northern regions of Iran.
Already, 250,000 Arabs have been uprooted from their villages following the Iranian government’s confiscation of 200,000 hectares of farmland for a massive sugar cane project. Compensation was in some cases less than 3% of the market value of the land, notes Miloon Kothari of the UNCHR.
A further 400,000 Ahwazis Arabs face displacement by the creation of the new military-industrial Arvand Free Zone (AFZ) covering over 3,000 square kilometres, along the Shatt Al-Arab waterway, which borders Iraq.
Ahwaz produces 90% of Iran’s oil and 10% of OPEC’s global output. Tehran expropriates 100% of oil revenues. A bid by Ahwaz MPs to secure the repatriation of 1.5% of these earnings back to the region for expenditure on social welfare projects was rejected in January 2006. The result? Ahwaz is the region of Iran with the third greatest level of poverty. Half the population are impoverished and 80% of children suffer from malnutrition, according to an AHRO report to the UNCHR in 2004. The unemployment rate of Arabs is more than five times that of Persians.
In a bid to crush Arab ethnic identity, Tehran has banned Arab language newspapers and educational text books. Echoing the tactics of the apartheid regime in South Africa, which compelled school lessons in the oppressor language of Afrikaans, Tehran has made instruction in Farsi (Persian) compulsory in Ahwazi schools. The result is a 30% Arab drop-out rate at primary level and a 50% drop-out rate at secondary level. Illiteracy rates among Arabs are at least four times those of non-Arabs.
Contrary to Tehran’s propaganda, the vast majority of Ahwazi Arabs reject separatism. They want regional self-government, not independence. Nor do they support a US invasion. This would, they argue, strengthen the position of the hardliners in Tehran, allowing President Ahmadinejad to use the pretext of defence and security to play the nationalist card and to further crack down on dissent. Many Ahwazis believe the route to reform is an internal alliance of Iranian democrats, leftists, trade unionists, minority nationalities and local civic organisations.
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