May 16, 2013

Ahwazi: British MP Denounces Discrimination Against Ahwazi Arabs

At an event hosted on Wednesday 15 May 2013 at the Palace of Westminster by the Conservative Human Rights Commission (CHRC) in association with the International Society for Human Rights, CHRC Chair Robert Buckland MP called on the Iran government to stop "one of the worst examples of human rights abuse in the world."

Below is an article published by Ahwaz News Agency:

The event launching the Ahwaz Human Rights Report 2013, published by the Ahwazi Arab Solidarity Network, gathered Ahwazi activists to speak out against Iran's persecution, campaign of execution, use of torture, the denial of women's rights and environmental destruction of the Ahwazi Arab homeland.

CHRC chair remarked that "Discrimination against the Ahwazi community has to be stopped. Iran has to take its place as a free and fair nation and show some justice to its own people. It's a simple message. It's one that resonates well and clearly in this [British] parliament."

Dr Wafik Moustafa, president of the Conservative Arab Network, pointed out the international ignorance of the Ahwazi Arab people, who are suffering from extreme persecution and deprivation.

Ahwazi Arab writer and former political prisoner Yousef Azizi Bani Torouf spoke of the suffering of ethnic Arabs since the Pahlavi dynasty was founded in 1925 and continued by the Islamic Republic. "With Persianisation has come hardship and misery. Discrimination is seen on a daily basis in Iranian literature and among Iranian elites and intellectuals, spread through media and books. All cultural expression is controlled and repressed by the state. Discrimination is institutionalised with less than 20% of top positions in the Arab-majority province going to Arabs with the rest going to outsiders. Economically, Ahwazis endure poverty on a par with Africa.”

"Arabs endure poor educational attainment. Illiteracy is very high particularly among women. This is due to lack of instruction in Arabic, as mother language, and a high school drop-out rate. Health statistics show that as a result of poverty caused by discrimination, Arabs are suffering malnutrition and low life expectancy."

Ibrahim al-Arabi, chair of the European Ahwazi Human Rights Organisation, spoke on the violent reaction of the Iranian authorities towards those who speak out for their cultural rights, including vengeance against members of the families of activists.

Pointing out the example of five Ahwazi cultural activists facing imminent execution, he said: "Executions of arrested Arab protesters and cultural activists are routinely carried out. Ahwazi Arab political prisoners are highly vulnerable to torture and rape by interrogators and extra-judicial killings. Ahwaz City hosts some of the most notorious prisons in Iran, a country renowned for torture and extra-judicial killings.

"Extrajudicial killings of Ahwazi Arabs are at least as frequent as official executions of political prisoners. The bodies of many Ahwazi activists who have "disappeared" have been washed up in the Karoon.

"It is clear that the slaughter of Ahwazis is linked to their cultural persecution. We believe this state terrorism should be highlighted and condemned as crimes against humanity. We support the use of sanctions against all judges, security personnel, state-employed journalists and politicians who collude in this ethnic oppression."

Ahwazi environmental activist Haifa Assadi, an executive member of the Council of Human Rights Defenders without Borders, detailed the environmental destruction of the Ahwazi Arab homeland, which stated was on a scale of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. She said: "River diversion and the draining of the marshes are turning a once fertile land into desert while industrial pollution has made Ahwaz City the most polluted place on Earth, according to the World Health Organisation. As well as destroying the unique ecology of the region, the effects have been devastating for the indigenous Ahwazi Arab population.

"The regime is engaged in the aridification of the region with the deliberate evaporation of the Hawr Al-Azim marsh. This is being done on a par with Saddam’s destruction of the Iraqi marshes. The destruction of Hawr Al-Azim has forced people from more than forty villages to abandon their homes and move to city slums.

"The Iranian regime has no intention of stopping or even considering stopping these plans. Instead, new projects for dam construction and water diversion are being proposed and destructive industries – which do not employ local people – are contributing ever higher amounts of toxic pollution."

Ahwazi women's rights activist Elham Saedi examined Ahwazi Arab women's "double persecution by the Iranian regime due to their ethnicity and gender. This operates in the areas of education, health, politics and social life. While Ahwazi Arab men are second-class citizens, Ahwazi women are third-class."

She stated that "The freedom of all Ahwazi Arabs depends on the freedom of the female half of the population. Women’s rights should be central to the Ahwazi struggle."

Ahwazi Arab women are paying a huge price for Arab civil unrest in Iran, she said. "The wives of Ahwazi political and cultural activists are often arrested and imprisoned, along with their small children, in order to put pressure on their husbands to confess to crimes they did not commit. Some incarcerated Ahwazi women have been pregnant and have either miscarried or forced to give birth in prison without adequate medical assistance and in unsanitary conditions."

Cultural attitudes and the failure to empower women are the result of discriminatory practices by the regime, said Ms Saedi. "Non-Persian women suffer multiple discrimination in terms of criminal and common laws. Because they are less protected by law, they are subjected to more social crimes and violence, such as honour killing. Arabistan leads all other regions in anti-women crimes due to backward cultural attitudes that are tolerated and encouraged by the regime.

"Ahwazi Arab women's problems and concerns are rooted in their community culture, customs and traditions and they are not going to be solved unless there are civil society organisations which originate in the heart of their culture. These civil organisations can play a major role in providing the best environment to work against discrimination against women."

Mr Buckland concluded the meeting by describing Iran's persecution of Ahwazi Arabs as "a concerted attempt to prevent a whole section of Iranian society to make progress, to achieve their ambitions and live their dreams.

"People want change and want change urgently for the sake of those thousands of people living in these conditions without basic freedoms."

He praised Foreign Secretary William Hague's vocal support for Ahwazi political prisoners suffering torture and execution: "I welcome the robust attitude of the British government towards Iran's violations of human rights against the Ahwazi Arabs. I was particularly encouraged by the Foreign Secretary who made a public condemnation of the execution of the Malashieh Four last year."

Drawing attention to current events, Mr Buckland said: "We are coming up to a time of important presidential elections in Iran next month. It's a worrying time because we know that very often the electoral process is associated with more crackdowns.

"I very much hope that this period of 2013 when the eyes of the world will be on Iran will be an opportunity to do everything we can to highlight the predicament of the Ahwazi Arabs and to do our bit to make sure that in the years to come we will be meeting in rooms like this perhaps celebrating the freedom of those millions of people who live under such oppression.”