Iran Arab minority protest deaths must be investigated

The Iranian authorities must investigate clashes between security forces and protesters from the Ahwazi Arab minority that reportedly left at least three people dead and dozens injured in the south-western province of Khuzestan, Amnesty International said today.Security forces reportedly fired live ammunition and used tear gas against protesters.“This is yet another chilling attack on the right to protest. While denouncing governments in the region for repressing demonstrations, the Iranian authorities are acting in the same repressive manner, “said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa programme deputy director.Amnesty International is calling for an independent and impartial investigation into the killings.The crackdown came around a “Day of Rage” protest held on 15 April to mark the anniversary of demonstrations that took place in the regional capital Ahvaz in 2005, when local Ahwazi Arabs held rallies in protest at a letter they believed was written by an official which outlined a policy of “Persianization” of the area.“We are deeply concerned by reports that well over 200 people were arrested in the run-up to the demonstration. Anyone detained solely for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly, or for peacefully expressing their views, must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.Around 30 of the arrested people are said to be women, five of whom are reportedly pregnant.Amnesty International has called for all those detained to be protected from torture or other ill-treatment and to be granted access to their families, lawyers and adequate medical treatment.Confirming details of events in the Khuzestan area is exceedingly difficult, as security forces have maintained increasingly tight control over the flow of information in and out of the region since 2005.According to local media reports, the dead protesters are Mohamed Murabi, 30, killed in Ahvaz on 16 April and Abd al-Rahman Ibn Qasem al-Badawi, 37, killed in the town of Hamidieh on 14 April. Another man, Basem Abiat, was said to have been killed in Hamidieh on 15 April. Amnesty International has not been able to confirm these independently.Demonstrations took place over the Ahwazi Arab minority’s long-held grievances over institutionalized discrimination and denial of economic and cultural rights. There were reportedly protests in the Siahi, Malashieh and Kut Abdullah districts of Ahvaz city, as well as in the town of Hamidieh, north-west of Ahvaz.There were also demonstrations in other cities such as Khorramshahr and Abadan, according to some reports. Iranian media has referred to demonstrations in Khuzestan as being in support of the Shi’a majority in Bahrain. Some Ahwazi Arab sources have claimed that the security forces brought in people from outside the province to demonstrate about Bahrain.Iran’s Foreign Policy Parliamentary Commission met on Sunday to discuss “recent events” in Khuzestan, without specifying any details. “The Iranian authorities must recognize and address the grievances of the Ahwazi Arab minority in Iran, rather than trying to write their protests off as simply ‘pro-Bahraini’,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.The Ahwazi Arab minority is one of many minorities in Iran. Much of Iran’s Arab community lives in the south-western province of Khuzestan, which borders Iraq.Most are Shi’a Muslims but some are reported to have converted to Sunni Islam, heightening government suspicion about Ahwazis, who complain that they are marginalized and subject to discrimination in access to education, employment, adequate housing, political participation and cultural rightsIn 2005, dozens were killed and scores, if not hundreds, arrested during and following the demonstrations.  The event sparked off a cycle of violence in the province, with fatal bomb attacks, followed by further arrests, unfair trials and at least 15 executions.