In Ahvaz, on September 22nd, an armed attack targeted a military parade that marked the 38th anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war. The gunmen had been disguised as members of the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij paramilitary force, according to the government, and were killed by security forces during the attack.
Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence announced that it had arrested 22 suspects in the days that followed. As well, the state television channel Press TV broadcast a video of suspects handcuffed and blindfolded facing a wall.
The Al-Ahwaz National Resistance, described as an umbrella entity composed of several Ahvazi separatist groups, and the armed group that calls itself the Islamic State are among several groups who have taken responsibility for the attack.
According to Amnesty International, a huge crackdown by Iranian authorities against the Ahvazi Arab ethnic minority is now occurring. Hundreds of people are being arrested in Khuzestan province, southern Iran, over the past few weeks.
The attack on the military parade seems to have sparked the wave of detentions. The attack resulted in the deaths of 24 people, including spectators, and injured more than 60.
Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa said, “The scale of arrests in recent weeks is deeply alarming. The timing suggests that the Iranian authorities are using the attack in Ahvaz as an excuse to lash out against members of the Ahvazi Arab ethnic minority, including civil society and political activists, in order to crush dissent in Khuzestan province.”
He added, “All those suspected of criminal responsibility for the horrific attack in Ahvaz must be brought to justice in fair trials, but carrying out arbitrary arrests is not the way to secure justice for victims.”
Ahvazi Arab activists outside Iran have provided Amnesty International with the names of 178 people who were arrested. The number may actually be much higher — some activists outside the country report that at least 600 people have been detained. Reports also allege that political and minority rights activists are arrested almost on a daily basis.
Across Khuzestan province, in Ahvaz, Hamidiyeh, Khorramshahr, and Shush, arrests continue, creating a climate of fear in already persecuted Ahvazi Arab community.
Philip Luther spoke to this when he said, “Iran’s appalling track record of persecuting and discriminating against members of the Ahvazi Arab community raises suspicions that these arrests are being carried out arbitrarily and are politically motivated.”
“Amnesty International calls on the Iranian authorities to release immediately and unconditionally anyone being held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly or solely on account of their ethnic identity,” Luther continued.
Ministry of Intelligence officials have been carrying out the arrests, along with Iran’s regular police force or riot police, according to information received by Amnesty International.
Arrest warrants have not been presented, and detainees are not told the reason for their arrests. They are being held with no access to lawyers or family, in conditions that are reminiscent of enforced disappearance. They are believed to be at risk of torture or other mistreatment.
The Governor of Khuzestan province, Gholamreza Shariati, claimed that there were no civil society activists among those detained — but Amnesty has received credible information that students, writers, civil society, minority rights and political activists have been arrested in their homes, at places of work, or in the streets.
Sahba(Lamya) Hammadi, a civil society activist who is pregnant has been detained. She was arrested on 6 October 6th at her home in the city of Susangerd, in Khuzestan province. On the day she was arrested, she contacted her family, but they have not heard from her since.
On October 22nd, two women from Susangerd, Zoudieh Afrawi and Gheysieh Afrawi, were arrested separately in their homes. Meanwhile, both of the women’s children were arrested earlier that day by security forces. They both telephoned relatives within the week following their arrests and told them they were being held by the Ministry of Intelligence. They have not been heard from since.
Mohammad Mo’meni Timas, a civil society activist, was arrested on September 30th, after going to the Revolutionary Court in Ahvaz to ask about his two children, who had been detained. He was arrested and has not been heard from since.