* Lyrics by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Doors, Black Sabbath, Queen & Guns n’ Roses also banned
* Google swamped by Iranian government organized protestors
* Iran says Holocaust contest will be an annual event “until the destruction of Israel”
* Gay Iranian hanged in public
* Saudi Arabia beheads an Egyptian man
* Shia on verge of taking power in Bahrain
1. Iranians outraged at Google
2. Iran purges bestselling books
3. UN condemns Iran for human rights abuses
4. Gay Iranian hanged in public
5. Egyptian man beheaded for stabbing Saudi to death
6. Saddam victims made to walk on broken glass
7. Moroccan wins first place in Iran Holocaust cartoon contest
8. Ayatollah who backs suicide bombers aims to be new Iranian spiritual leader
9. Argentina issues warrant for arrest of former Iranian President
10. Shias win election in Bahrain
11. A process of gradually silencing opposition
12. “Iranian cleansing of 1.5 million Ahwazi Arabs”
13. “Ahmadinejad clamps down on speech” (Washington Times, Nov. 6, 2006)
14. “Iranian Moolah” (Wall Street Journal, Oct. 29, 2006)
15. “Little-known Arab group in Iran faces persecution” (SF Chronicle, Nov. 5, 2006)
This dispatch, the first of two on Iran, deals with human rights abuses and related matters in Iran and also in neighboring Arab countries. The second dispatch (tomorrow) will deal with military issues concerning Iran.
IRANIANS OUTRAGED AT GOOGLE
Iranian authorities are outraged that an entry on the Google Video website has located Tabriz, the ancient Azeri provincial capital, in Azerbaijan rather than Iran. Tabriz and southern Azerbaijan have been occupied by Iran for centuries. Many Azeris would like independence from Persian repression, and to link with other Azeris across the border in the now independent former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.
The text of a tourist film on the Google Video site has drawn accusations that Google is deliberately trying to undermine Iranian sovereignty. Etemad, a reformist newspaper, accused Google of a “strange, suspicious and dubious act.”
Most residents of Tabriz speak an Azeri language, not Farsi. Tabriz and other cities in the province witnessed violent protests earlier this year after the publication of a cartoon in a Farsi-language newspaper depicting a cockroach speaking in the local Azeri tongue. Other repressed provinces of Iran, whose plights are completely ignored by the Palestinian-sympathizing western media, include Kurdistan and Khuzestan.
The Iranian regime has a track record of banning Western media. In 2005, it banned the sale of the “Zionist” National Geographic because the magazine listed the “Arabian Gulf” in parentheses after “Persian Gulf.” For more, see the dispatch Zionists “secretly control” both Al-Jazeera and the National Geographic (Dec. 15, 2004).
IRAN PURGES BESTSELLING BOOKS
Dozens of international bestsellers and literary masterpieces have been banned in Iran in the last few weeks in a cultural freeze instigated by the country’s extremist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Newly banned books include Farsi translations of Tracy Chevalier’s bestseller “The Girl With a Pearl Earring” and Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” which allegedly upset clerics within Iran’s tiny Christian community. Chevalier’s novel had previously been selling well, having completed six print runs in Iran.
Another Iranian publishing house has been banned from selling a series of books featuring lyrics by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Black Sabbath, Queen and Guns n’ Roses.
The clampdown has been led by hard-line culture minister, Mohammed Hossein Saffar Harandi, a former revolutionary guard and a close ally of Ahmadinejad. Saffar Harandi has said that a tougher line was needed to stop publishers from serving a “poisoned dish to the young generation.”
The crackdown also covers classics such as William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying,” and hundreds of historic works by Iranian authors, including books on psychology, history, politics and folklore.
The rise in book censorship mirrors repression in other spheres. In September the reformist newspaper Shargh was closed after publishing a cartoon depicting President George Bush, disguised as a horse, debating with a donkey under a halo, widely seen as representing Ahmadinejad.
(For a report on interference with classical literature in Turkey, see the dispatch Pinocchio, Tom Sawyer and Heidi convert to Islam in Turkey (Sept. 7, 2006).)
UN CONDEMNS IRAN FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
Last week, the UN General Assembly condemned Iran for human rights abuses, as a new video emerged in the West of the public hanging of Alireza Gorji, 23, and his friend Hossein Makesh, 22. The two were hanged in July in Broudjerd, Iran.
In the video, a crowd can be seen held back by barriers, as the two young men, with their hands bound behind their backs, are hoisted with ropes around their necks onto two rusty cranes, and then left to hang to death. One of the men wriggles for about six minutes, before he is dead. The other dies more quickly.
Officially these two youngsters were put to death because they had acted “immorally,” but anti-government campaigners claim that they were political activists executed on trumped-up charges.
The video was filmed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and smuggled out by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled opposition group. The group says it has gathered documentation on the execution of more than 20,000 political opponents of the regime.
Amnesty International last year documented at least 94 public executions although a much greater number are suspected to have taken place in secret.
GAY IRANIAN MAN HANGED IN PUBLIC
Shahab Darvishi, a gay Iranian man, was publicly hanged on November 14 in the western city of Kermanshah. He was charged with “lavat” meaning a homosexual relationship, the official Iranian-government news agency IRNA reported.
Darvishi was hung in the so-called “Freedom Square” in Kermanshah in front of hundreds of cheering people. Under Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, homosexuality between consenting adults is a capital crime.
EGYPTIAN MAN BEHEADED FOR STABBING SAUDI TO DEATH
Saudi Arabia has beheaded an Egyptian who killed a Saudi man in an argument. Rajih bin Ahmed bin Mustafa Waziri was convicted of stabbing to death Majid bin Abdel-Karim bin Abdullah during a dispute. He was executed with a sword to the head in the southern town of Jizan, the Saudi Interior Ministry said yesterday.
Under a strict interpretation of Islam anyone convicted of murder, drug trafficking, rape and armed robbery can be executed. Officially, the kingdom beheaded 83 people in 2005 and 35 people in 2004.
SADDAM VICTIMS MADE TO WALK ON BROKEN GLASS
Saddam Hussein, already sentenced to death on November 5 for crimes against humanity, faces a dozen or more cases against him. This week he was made to listen to fresh evidence in his latest trial from Kurds who were, it is alleged, tortured on his orders.
As part of the 1988 Anfal “Spoils of War” campaign against ethnic Kurds, Yunis Haji, who was 20 at the time, said Iraqi soldiers tortured him for three days. “We were made to walk barefoot on broken glass,” Haji told the court. “We were tied on a table and they used to drop cold water, drop by drop on our forehead. Every drop used to be like a mountain crashing on my head.”
Taimor Abdallah Rokhzai, who now lives in Washington D.C., said he was 12 when he and other villagers were taken out into the desert and lined up in front of a trench and fired on by soldiers in a crime reminiscent of Nazi actions against Jews in World War Two.
Rokhzai’s mother and sister and dozens of others, including pregnant women, fell dead or dying into the trench. Shot in the shoulder, he also fell into the trench. “Suddenly it stopped and it was quiet. I was waiting to die and my whole body was covered with blood, and the soldiers went away,” he told the court (in a trial which – amazingly – the so-called human rights group Human Rights Watch, has condemned). He climbed out and fled across an area that was dotted with similar pits full of bodies.
Prosecutors say the Anfal campaign included widespread use of chemical weapons, killed more than 180,000 people and destroyed hundreds of villages. Saddam and his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed (known as “Chemical Ali”) face charges of genocide. The trial’s chief prosecutor Munqith al-Faroon said on Sunday that he had an audiotape and documents proving Saddam himself ordered the gassing in northern Iraq.
MOROCCAN WINS FIRST PLACE IN IRAN HOLOCAUST CARTOON CONTEST
Abdollah Derkaoui, a Moroccan “artist,” received the top prize in an Iranian Holocaust cartoon contest. Derkaoui received $12,000 for his “work” comparing Israel’s security fence (which at Islamic Jihad’s own admission has prevented them sending dozens of suicide bombers into Israel to murder Jews), with the Auschwitz concentration camp, where 1.5 million people were murdered.
Second place was awarded equally to Carlos Latuff from Brazil and A. Chard from France who shared $8,000. Iran’s Shahram Rezai came third and received $5,000. The entries on display came from nations including United States, Indonesia and Turkey.
Masoud Shojai, the creator of the exhibit, said the contest would be an annual event “until the destruction of Israel.”
The Holocaust cartoon contest made little impression within Iran. Not a single private Iranian newspaper published the winning entries. The cartoons have been on display since August at the Museum of Contemporary Arts for Palestine (which was the Israeli diplomatic mission before the 1979 Islamic Revolution) but aside from the visit of state schools did not draw large crowds. UN chief Kofi Annan is among those to condemn the exhibition and prize.
AYATOLLAH WHO BACKS SUICIDE BOMBERS AIMS TO BE NEW IRANIAN SPIRITUAL LEADER
Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, 71, an ultra-conservative Iranian cleric who opposes all dialogue with the West, is campaigning to succeed Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameini, 67, as the next supreme spiritual leader of the Islamic state.
Mesbah-Yazdi is standing in elections for the Assembly of Experts, an 86-member panel of theologians that is responsible for nominating a replacement for Khameini should he step down.
Mesbah-Yazdi backs the use of suicide bombers against Israel and is thought to support the acquisition of an Iranian nuclear bomb. He is considered to be an extremist even by his fellow mullahs. He was a fringe figure in Iran’s theocracy until last year’s election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a fellow fundamentalist who views him as his ideological mentor.
He is known to many as “Professor Crocodile” because of a notorious cartoon that showed him weeping false tears over the jailing of a reformist journalist. The cartoonist was subsequently sent to jail too.
The run-up to the vote has been marred by complaints of rigging in favor of hardliners. Around half of nearly 500 applicants have been banned from standing.
ARGENTINA ISSUES WARRANT FOR ARREST OF FORMER IRANIAN PRESIDENT
Argentinean Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral has asked the government of Iran as well as Interpol to hand over the former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani and seven others who are wanted for murder in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural and charity center that killed 85 people and injured almost 300. It was the worst terrorist attack ever on Argentine soil.
Prosecutor Alberto Nisman said that the decision to attack the cultural center “was undertaken in 1993 by the highest authorities of the then-government of Iran.”
The attack which was carried out by Hizbullah came, according to the prosecutors, “under orders directly emanating from the regime in Teheran.”
Besides Rafsanjani, who was Iran’s president between 1989 and 1997, warrants were also issued for former Iranian intelligence and security minister Ali Fallahijan and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, and for the former Hizbullah security chief for external affairs.
In response, Iran’s Attorney General Abdel Samad said the accusations were “empty” and issued an international arrest warrant for the case’s lead prosecutor Alberto Nisman, as well as a former judge in the case, Juan Jose Galeano.
The Argentine government has stepped up security at the U.S. and Israeli embassies as well as at Jewish community centers and synagogues.
SHIAS WIN ELECTION IN BAHRAIN
Bahrain, separated from Shia-dominated Iran by the Persian Gulf, is now also controlled by a Shia majority, after a historic election this past weekend.
The polls followed a bitter campaign that appeared to heighten sectarian divisions between the Sunni and Shia populations in Bahrain. Preliminary results suggest the main opposition al-Wifaq party will gain a majority in the 40-member lower chamber.
In Bahrain, citizens vote for a lower chamber that cannot form a government but may initiate legislation. An equally powerful upper house is appointed by King Hamad.
A PROCESS OF GRADUALLY SILENCING OPPOSITION
I attach three articles below. The first, which has the writer’s name withheld due to his fear of government persecution, reports on the closing of newspapers in Iran as well as “intellectuals arrested, satellite dishes confiscated and Internet traffic disrupted in what is seen as a delayed crackdown more than a year after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became Iran’s president.”
The writer says it is “part of a process of gradually silencing opposition to a government that has yet to deliver on promises of economic reforms.” As a result some reformers and traditionalists are coming together in an unlikely alliance.
The second article, from the Wall Street Journal, written by “Farouz Farzami,” the pseudonym of a journalist who is forbidden to publish in Iran, claims that “the well-to-do Iranian drinks and reads and watches what he wishes. He does as he pleases behind the walls of his private mansions and villas. In return for his private comforts, the affluent Iranian is happy to sacrifice freedom of speech, most of his civil rights, and his freedom of association. The upper-middle class has been bought off by this pact, which makes a virtue of hypocrisy.”
According to the writer, “In this world, it is only the principled intellectuals of moderate means who suffer.”
“IRANIAN CLEANSING OF 1.5 MILLION AHWAZI ARABS”
The final article reports on the plight of Ahwazi Arabs in Iran. Whilst this list/website has featured articles on the Ahwazis before, the subject is so under-reported in the mainstream media that I include another piece below. The San Francisco Chronicle should be commended for running it.
An estimated 1.5 million people have been forced from their land, resulting in an “occupation of an Arab homeland in the heart of the Middle East that almost nobody knows about.”
Ahwazis are banned from speaking Arabic, and as a result many students drop out of school early rather than receive an education in Farsi. Their land is riddled with mines left over from the Iran-Iraq war, which continue to kill or maim Ahwazi farmers.
-- Tom Gross
IRAN RETURNING TO THE DARK DAYS
Ahmadinejad clamps down on speech
The Washington Times
November 6, 2006
Newspapers have been closed, intellectuals arrested, satellite dishes confiscated and Internet traffic disrupted in what is seen as a delayed crackdown more than a year after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became Iran’s president.
The trend is prompting some reformers and traditionalists to come together in an unlikely alliance to oppose the president.
The state-owned newspaper Iran reopened recently after a six-month closure prompted by a caricature that mocked ethnic Turks, Iran’s most powerful minority, which sparked weeks of rioting. But several reformist journals remain off the shelves.
Iran’s leading pro-reform daily, Shargh, was shut down in September, as was Nameh, a political journal with liberal leanings. On Oct. 19, a new moderate daily employing many of Shargh’s journalists was pulled from circulation and banned from publishing political news or analysis. Foreign reporters also have been expelled.
It is all part of a crackdown that many Iranian commentators have been predicting since the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad in June 2005. In recent months, several intellectuals and political activists have been arrested and a series of measures put in place to restrict Iranians’ access to information from abroad.
Moves to confiscate satellite dishes and increased filtering of Web sites, say many Iranians, are returning Iran to the dark days immediately after the Islamic revolution and before the eight years of gradual reforms implemented by President Mohammed Khatami.
“This government is growing like a cancer,” said a home painter, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. “They are slowly changing everything. It’s not that I’m depressed – I’m shocked and helpless.”
Last month, the government ordered Internet service providers to reduce the speed of Web access for homes and cybercafes. The slower connection speed will make it more difficult to access and download Western news, movies and television programs. It also will impede efforts by dissidents to upload information onto the Web.
As part of a process of gradually silencing opposition to a government that has yet to deliver on promises of economic reforms, dozens of followers of a charismatic Shi’ite cleric were arrested in late September. They are thought to have been taken to Section 209 of Tehran’s Evin Prison, which is run by the Ministry of Intelligence, according to Amnesty International.
One of those arrested was Kianoosh Sanjari, an activist sympathetic to Ayatollah Mohammad Kazemeni Boroujerdi who had been providing details of the detentions on his blog until the day of his arrest. Amnesty International reported that Mr. Sanjari is being held incommunicado and is at risk of being tortured.
A struggle also is taking place inside the Islamic republic’s power core, as the reformist and conservative officials band together to confront Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hard-line factions in coming elections for the Tehran city council.
The results of this contest will determine the direction in which Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader and ultimate decision-maker in Iran, will lean on issues such as the country’s nuclear program.
“Now people realize that [Mr. Ahmadinejad] is more right-wing than the [conservatives],” said an Iranian businessman who has known the president for several years. “That’s why an alliance is being established with the reformists, an alliance that I would not have imagined even in my wildest dreams” before Mr. Ahmadinejad came to power.
Cultural censorship also has increased, with the banning of Oscar-nominated Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi’s latest film, Half Moon. It features a woman singing, an act that is banned in Iran.
“Imagine my frame of mind when, having placed all my hopes in this film, after having done everything so that Iranians could see it, the government then decides it cannot be screened,” Mr. Ghobadi said in an interview.
(The byline is withheld from this story at the writer’s request for fear of official retaliation.)
HOW CAN YOU HAVE A REVOLUTION WHEN EVERYONE IS WATCHING TV?
How can you have a revolution when everyone is watching TV?
By Farouz Farzami
The Wall Street Journal
October 29, 2006
Killing time the other day on my way to meet my boyfriend, I walked through the long narrow passages of the House of Artists in the vicinity of the old U.S. Embassy, when I came upon a graceful exhibit of books published in America.
The books had been imported by a company called Vizhe Nasher (“special publication”), which is authorized, as it must be, by the government. Most concerned the visual and architectural arts, photography, sewing and cooking, and there was a wide variety offering weight-loss techniques, but I came across one I was startled to find: “The Daily Cocktail: 365 Intoxicating Drinks,” by Dalyn A. Miller and Larry Bonovan.
I live in a country where alcohol is officially banned, but where the art of homemade spirits has reached new heights. Sharing my astonishment about the cocktail book with some friends with better connections to the Islamist regime, they explained the government has a silent pact with the educated and affluent in Iran’s big cities, who render politics unto Caesar, provided that Caesar keeps his nose out of their liquor cabinets.
In other words, the well-to-do Iranian drinks and reads and watches what he wishes. He does as he pleases behind the walls of his private mansions and villas. In return for his private comforts, the affluent Iranian is happy to sacrifice freedom of speech, most of his civil rights, and his freedom of association. The upper-middle class has been bought off by this pact, which makes a virtue of hypocrisy.
The accommodation runs both ways. A friend who has made a small fortune in the pharmaceutical business told me that recently that the enforcers of Islamist law appeared on the roof of his condominium in the northwest Tehran suburb of Sharak-e-Qarb to seize all the satellite dishes. Every household received an order to attend a hearing of the revolutionary court, where the magistrate – typically a mullah – will levy fines. The fines help feed the friends of the courts, while for my wealthy pharmacist friend, erecting another satellite dish is as easy as refueling his car – and even the inconvenience of replacing the dish will not be necessary for long. Technology is more than up to the challenge posed by the morals police. “I have heard there is a state-of-the-art dish made of invisible fiberglass that I can install on the window pane of my apartment,” my friend told me. “I’m going for it.”
Many Iranians believe the occasional crackdowns are being organized by corrupt officials who secretly own interests in the new generation of satellite dishes. The confiscations just create markets for newer products.
The issue illustrates the larger pattern. My friend’s luxurious apartment is worth more than four million tomans, equivalent to about $4,000 per square meter. He owns a pharmacy downtown and is in the comfortable upper-middle class. These are the kind of people who can afford mansions in Shahrak-e-Qarb or in Lavasan, up in the desirable hills where former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his ilk live.
“I can afford yearly two or three months’ vacation in Dubai, Europe or even America,” my friend said. “Why should I bother to organize a protest against seizing our satellite dishes? We may be forfeiting our freedoms, as you say, but when the price of avoiding the authorities is so affordable, why would we risk everything to take on the regime? We have to wait until society itself is disillusioned, and the masses open their eyes.”
In this world, it is only the principled intellectuals of moderate means who suffer, like my friend Farid Nazari, who courageously speaks his mind on all occasions and who operates a stall that sells banned books. He has had his inventory seized several times in the last two years. “We live in a circus,” he said. “We, as the people of culture, are victims of official idiosyncrasy. The authorities act impulsively based on whimsical assessments of risk. Their actions defy common sense and logic, so are completely unpredictable. It is that unpredictability that leads to panic and intellectual paralysis. That’s the secret of the current Iranian despotism.”
That, and hypocrisy. The well-to-do are paying a price for their comforts, and I wonder sometimes if they understand what it is. How can you have a revolution when everyone is watching TV?
(“Farouz Farzami” is the pseudonym of a journalist who is forbidden to publish in Iran.)
THE OCCUPATION OF AN ARAB HOMELAND THAT NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT
Little-known Arab group in Iran faces persecution
Ahwazis call occupation of their land a plight worse than that of Palestinians
By Hugh Macleod
The San Francisco Chronicle
November 5, 2006
For decades, the Persian shahs and ayatollahs of Iran have uprooted Ahwazi Arabs from their oil-rich region in the southwest corner of the country, forcing an estimated 1.5 million people off the land where their families have lived for generations.
The result, Ahwazi activists say, is the occupation of an Arab homeland in the heart of the Middle East that almost nobody knows about – an occupation, Ahwazis contend, that has stripped Arabs of more land than is at issue in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.
“They came at me like a pack of wolves,” said Abu Tarek, who asks that his family name be withheld out of concern for his safety.
Abu Tarek is a native of the region that borders Iraq, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf, once known as Arabistan after its ethnic majority but renamed Khuzestan by the Iranian government. As a campaigner for the rights and autonomy of Ahwazis, Khuzestan’s Arab-majority population, he was considered a grave threat to Iran’s national security.
“For a year, they blindfolded me, electrocuted my hands, beat my penis and smashed my head against the wall,” he said, describing his torture at the hands of Iranian security during 1987, a year before the end of the Iran-Iraq war. “One time, I fell unconscious for two days, and when I woke up, I couldn’t see out of my left eye.”
Like most Middle Eastern countries, Iran has a host of ethnic and religious minorities within its borders. The dominant group is ethnic Persian Shiites, and the government they control derives most of its wealth from oil.
Khuzestan’s oil fields produce about 90 percent of Iran’s oil, or nearly 10 percent of OPEC’s total production. To replace the autonomy-minded Arabs of Khuzestan, the Tehran government has sponsored a series of vast industrial projects, coupled with massive, organized influxes of Persian workers and their families to replace the Ahwazis.
The government accuses Ahwazi Arabs of plotting foreign invasions with everyone from the CIA to Saddam Hussein.
“The security agents said I was a spy for the Iraqi regime. I told them I didn’t want to change the Iranian occupation for an Iraqi one,” said Abu Tarek. Six years into his second stint in jail, he escaped earlier this year and fled to Syria, hoping for refuge from his persecutors.
He has not found it.
Although Syria, an authoritarian, Sunni-majority country where political Islam is outlawed, and Iran, a hard-line Shiite theocracy, make an unlikely partnership, their strategic alliance transcends founding ideologies.
Abu Tarek may be considered a political refugee by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and the rulers of Syria may still pride themselves on backing the pan-Arab cause, but he nonetheless faces possible deportation back to Iran – and what would probably be a death sentence.
“I thought I’d be protected here in this Arab state. In the past, we used to ask Syria for help in our struggle; now I am asking Europe for help in escaping Syria,” Abu Tarek said. “I am afraid Syrian intelligence will hand me over. I am even more afraid here than in Iran. I knew my enemy in Khuzestan, and I knew where to run. Here I don’t even have a house, so at night I sleep in parks.”
His fear may be justified – other Ahwazis have been sent by Syrian authorities to Iran, even one who lived in Europe.
Dutch citizen Faleh Abdullah Mansuri, the 60-year-old head of the Ahwazi Liberation Organization, the Ahwazis’ leading political opposition movement, was arrested by Syrian security in April while he was visiting an Ahwazi friend in Damascus.
Syrian authorities recently confirmed that Mansuri was deported to Tehran in May at the request of Iran. He is now reportedly in prison in Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan, facing what activists say could be death by hanging for charges related to a string of bombings in Khuzestan last year that targeted public buildings and oil fields. Tehran authorities blamed the attacks on Ahwazi dissidents, although the main Ahwazi organizations denied responsibility.
Saeed Saki, a member of the Ahwazi Liberation Organization, had been recognized as a refugee by the U.N. agency. He was living in Damascus and was due to be resettled in Norway when he was arrested and extradited to Tehran. Only high-level intervention from international officials prevented his execution, and he remains imprisoned in Iran.
Three other Ahwazis – Abdullah Abdel Hamid, whose family has resettled in Norway; Jamal Obaidy, a university student; and Taher Mazra, whose family was prevented from leaving Syria for Sweden last month – were arrested in April, and are believed to be in a Damascus prison and facing extradition to Iran.
Laurens Jolles, acting representative of the U.N. refugee commission in Damascus, said that despite numerous requests, the agency had been given no access to the three men.
“Syria is aware that its own Constitution prevents the deportation of refugees to countries where they will face persecution, as do international laws,” he said. “There should be a clear understanding these men should not be sent back to Iran.”
A source at the Iranian embassy in Damascus, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied that any prisoners of conscience had been extradited from Syria to Iran. “There is an agreement between Syria and Iran that any Iranian who has been jailed in Syria for a crime can be transferred to complete his sentence in Iran. But no prisoners of conscience have been handed over to Iran by Syria.”
Before its annexation in 1925 by the British-backed shah of Iran, Khuzestan was an autonomous Arab emirate. Britain, France and Italy all had consulates in Ahvaz. Activists say about a third of the 5 million Ahwazis have been driven from the province since the 1979 Islamic revolution that swept the monarchy from power and installed the Shiite ayatollahs in power.
A quarter million have been displaced by the state seizure of more than 750 square miles of land for use in a huge sugar-cane project, while an additional 400,000 Ahwazis are set to be made homeless in the creation of a military-industrial complex along the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which borders Iraq. In December, Iran announced plans to build a nuclear reactor in Khuzestan, despite the earthquake-prone nature of the region.
Discriminated against in education and access to health care, Ahwazis are banned from speaking Arabic, and many students drop out of school early rather than receive an education only in Farsi. The result has been soaring unemployment and abject poverty: 80 percent of Ahwazi children are malnourished, according to the governor of Dashte-Azadegan, a district of Khuzestan.
Many Ahwazi towns were decimated in the Iran-Iraq war, and the government has made almost no effort to rebuild them. The land is riddled with millions of land mines left over from that war, which continue to kill or maim Ahwazi farmers. Chemical weapons used by the Iraqi military on Arab-majority cities have led to heart disease two decades later and continue to poison Ahwazi fetus, according to the British Ahwazi Friendship Society, an activist organization.
Since the Ahwazi intifada, or uprising, began in April 2005, Iran has detained more than 25,000 Ahwazis, at least 131 have been executed and more than 150 have disappeared, according to the Ahwazi Human Rights Organization in the United States.
The two-month campaign of civil unrest culminated in a bomb attack on an oil installation east of Ahvaz, prompting Tehran to call on Hezbollah to help quell demonstrations and strikes, said Abu Hisham, another Ahwazi fugitive in Damascus. He also asked that his family name be withheld for his safety.
Hezbollah, a militant Islamist movement based in Lebanon, is financed by Iran, and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, became an Arab icon after he waged war with Israel last summer. Iran’s influence on the Shiite Arab factions in Iraq, its sponsorship of anti-Israeli Islamist groups including the Shiite Hezbollah and Hamas, the hard-line Sunni party that controls the Palestinian government, as well as its defiance of Western demands that it curtail its nuclear development program has gained the hard-line Iranian leaders popularity throughout the Arab world.
The Badr Brigade, the militia of the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the major parties in the Iraqi coalition government, uses training camps in Khuzestan. Abu Hisham said he was interrogated by Iraqi militants at one such camp.
Abu Hisham said he fled Khuzestan in 2000 after seeing his brother and most of his friends arrested. He, too, now lives alone and in hiding in Damascus.
“Iran occupies more Arab land in terms of square meters than Israel does,” said Hisham, his eye darting nervously as he talked. “Yet we get more attention from the Dutch than from all the Arab states. I wish the world would unite for our cause, like they did to liberate Kuwait, which is a third the size of Khuzestan.”
For Abu Tarek, however, it feels like the time for hope is running out.
“I am afraid. I feel like a bird trapped inside a cage, waiting to be slaughtered. I know I will spend the rest of my life without my family,” he said, the tears welling up in his one good eye.
“The best friend to me these long years has been sadness. All I ask is this: Do we have a land of our own, and will we ever be allowed to rest in peace on this land?”