Tatchell on Tehran’s Secret War

Peter Tatchell comments in today’s Times on the plight of Ahwazi Arabs in Iran – Tehran’s secret war against its own people:

“NEVER AGAIN” is, I fear, a phrase that we may hear again all too soon – but too late to warn people, let alone save lives. Under the cover of secrecy the fundamentalist regime in Tehran is waging a sustained, bloody campaign of intimidation and persecution against its Arab minority. These Arabs believe that they are victims of “ethnic cleansing” by Iran’s Persian majority.

Sixteen Arab rights activists have been sentenced to death, according to reports in the Iranian media. They were found guilty of insurgency in secret trials before revolutionary courts. But most of the defendants were convicted solely on the basis of confessions extracted under torture. Ten are expected to be hanged in a couple of weeks, after the end of Ramadan. Amnesty International says that two of those sentenced to die, Abdolreza Nawaseri and Nazem Bureihi, were in prison when they were alleged to have been involved in bomb attacks. Three others – Hamza Sawari, Jafar Sawari and Reisan Sawari – say that they were nowhere near the Zergan oilfield the day it was bombed.

The death sentences seem designed to silence protests by Iran’s persecuted ethnic Arabs. They comprise 70 per cent of the population of the south-west province of Khuzestan, known locally as Ahwaz. Many Ahwazis believe that the 16 were framed and that their real “crime” was campaigning against Tehran’s repression and exploitation of their oil-rich homeland.

Further show trials are planned – 50 Ahwazi Arab activists have been charged with insurgency since last year. They are accused of being mohareb or enemies of God, which is a capital crime. Other allegations include sabotage and possession of home-made bombs. No material evidence has been offered to support the charges. All face possible execution.

According to Tatchell, these convictions and arrests are just the tip of the iceberg. For those who like to play the numbers game:

Nearly 250,000 Arabs have been displaced from their villages after the Iranian Government’s confiscation of more than 200,000 hectares of farmland for a huge sugar-cane project. Dozens more towns and villages will be erased, making a possible further 400,000 Ahwazis homeless, by the creation of a military-industrial security zone, covering more than 3,000 sq km, along the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which borders Iraq.

Where are the pan-Arabist freedom fighters when you need them? It turns out they’re working with the other side:

Ironically, the Hezbollah in Lebanon – the supposed embodiment of Arab
resistance in the Middle East – is complicit in the displacement of Ahwazi Arabs. On confiscated Arab land Tehran has set up training camps for Hezbollah and for the Badr Brigades, the Iraqi fundamentalist militia. Badr death squads in Iraq are murdering Sunnis, unveiled women, gay people, men wearing shorts, barbers, sellers of alcohol and people listening to Western music.

So is Tatchell calling for pressure from the UN or the West? Not at all:

Contrary to Tehran’s nationalist propaganda most Ahwazi Arabs just want a
measure of self-government; they are not hellbent on independence or in league with the CIA or plotting for an American invasion. Quite the contrary, they fear that Western sabre-rattling will be used as a pretext by Tehran’s hardliners to crack down savagely on dissent. Which makes it all the more disturbing that one of the few bodies with diplomatic muscle – the Arab League, which professes pan-Arab solidarity – is so silent in the face of Iran’s persecution of Arabs.

As things stand, expecting the Arab League to push the issue with Tehran is wishful thinking. If it can’t apply sufficient pressure on the Sudanese government to accept an Arab League sponsored force in Darfur, it hasn’t got a cat in hell’s chance of convincing the current Iranian regime to mend its ways.

(N.B. Tatchell’s article is also posted on the website of the British Ahwazi Friendship Society – worth a look to check out the background to his piece.)