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Iran's Repressed Ahvazi Arabs

Iranian security forces reportedly attacked the Hamzeh mosque in Ahvaz City in southwestern Khuzestan province. At least fifty and possibly as many as three-hundred members of Iran’s Ahvazi Arab community were detained, according to human rights monitors. Amnesty International says it has reports “that a number of people were injured when security forces opened fire on the crowd.”

Fakhteh Zamani is Director of the Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran. She says her organization was contacted by Ahvazi Arabs concerned about the whereabouts of those detained:

“Those arrested and injured have been taken to an unknown location and their family members have, as yet, received no information as to their whereabouts or well-being. We fear that they could be tortured and otherwise ill-treated in detention. Also the injured have not been taken to any hospital.”

At the time of the Hamzeh mosque attack, Ahvazi Arabs were conducting a memorial service for Mehdi Heydari. Mr. Heydari was shot dead while attempting to evade arrest, reportedly for his political activities.

An estimated two-million to four-million Ahvazi Arabs live in Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province. According to the U.S. State Department, they reportedly suffer persecution and discrimination at the hands of Iranian authorities. Ahvazi and human rights groups allege torture and ill-treatment of Ahvazi Arab activists, including detention of the spouses and young children of activists.

Fakhteh Zamani says lawyers, such as Azeri-Iranian human rights defender Saleh Kamrani, who try to help Ahvazi Arab activists also risk detention:

“Usually they don’t have access to [a] lawyer and when any lawyers contact [Iranian authorities] to represent them, the lawyers are threatened or imprisoned. For example, Saleh Kamrani was trying to represent a couple of writers and Ahvazi intellectuals and was imprisoned and questioned about his clients.”

In a proclamation commemorating Human Rights Day, President George W. Bush said the U.S. “continues to stand with those who work to build democracy and secure the blessings of liberty.” The day will come, said Mr. Bush, that “citizens of other lands such as North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, and Sudan, will no longer be restricted from practicing their faith, voicing their opinions, and enjoying the many blessings of freedom.”