CHRI – Thirteen people, including Arab ethnic rights activists and poets, were arrested in Ahwaz, the capital of Iran’s Khuzestan Province, on June 25, 2017, local activist Karim Dahimi told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
The next day an annual demonstration for Arab ethnic rights in Iran on June 26 was blocked by security forces, said Dahimi, who was at the protest.
“Hundreds of police and security forces were stationed around the ‘Crisis Zone’ on Koteh Abdollah, Molla Shiyeh and Kuye Alavi streets,” said Dahimi.
“They were able to control the rally by preventing people from other neighborhoods from joining the protest,” he added.
Khuzestan Province is home to Iran’s largest ethnic Arab population at an estimated 2.5-5 million.
Iran’s security establishment, including the Intelligence Ministry and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, view any form of domestic activism—especially by non-ethnic Persians who could be accused of harboring separatist ambitions—as a potential threat to the Islamic Republic and have arrested and imprisoned activists.
Ahwazi Arab activists outside Iran told Amnesty International that security forces had arrested at least 78 people since mid-March 2015 in Ahwaz and surrounded towns and villages following largely peaceful protests.
They said the detainees were accused of playing leadership roles in mobilizing local protests.
Since 2005, Arab activists in Ahwaz have held public demonstrations against state persecution on the last day of the Islamic month of Ramadan. During the protests, they walk to the homes of political prisoners and the families of people who have been executed shouting slogans.
“A day before the [June 26] demonstration, many Arab activists and poets were arrested at a gathering to celebrate the Eid-e Fitr [Islamic festival] in the Molla Shiyeh neighborhood of Ahwaz,” Dahimi told CHRI.
“They shouted slogans in defense of political prisoners and executed activists, and read poetry and danced,” he added. “That angered the security forces, especially since some of the activists had pledged not to participate in the event.”
The names of the 13 people who were detained at the June 25 event have not been released to the public, however, they include a number of Arab poets and Arab ethnic rights activists, Dahimi told CHRI.
Dahimi told CHRI that the following poets were arrested: Ahmad Hazbavi, Nasser Asadi, Morteza Silavi, Morteza Hardani, Mohammad Afravi, Maher Masoudi, Ali Zoheiri, Adnan Hardani, Ahmad Baraje’eh, Ali Sharifi, Mohammad Masoudi, Ahmad Masoudi and Obeideh Askin Ghazlavi.
“In 2006, the rally turned violent when the security forces intervened and a number of Arab demonstrators died when they fell into the Karoon River,” he said.
Continued Dahimi: “This year, a few days before Eid-e Fitr, several Arab activists and relatives of political prisoners as well as the families of victims of executions were summoned to the 17th District Police Station, the Ahwaz Intelligence Headquarters and Padadshahr Station and coerced into making pledges to stay home and not take part in any protest gatherings for Eid-e Fitr, or to encourage others.”
In February 2014, poet Hashem Shabani Amouri and cultural activist Hadi Rashedi, co-founders of the Al-Hiwar cultural institute in Ahwaz, were executed after being convicted of the charges of “enmity against God,” “corruption on earth,” and acting against Iran’s national security.