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Arrest sweeps target Arab minority

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, February 7, 2012 - Iranian security forces arrested more than 65 Arab residents during security sweeps in Iran's Arab-majority Khuzestan province since late 2011 according to local activists, Human Rights Watch said today. The Iranian government should immediately charge or release those arrested, Human Rights Watch said. Authorities should also investigate reports by local activists that two detainees have died in Intelligence Ministry detention facilities in the past week.

Reports by local activists about security sweeps in the towns of Hamidiyeh, Shush, and Ahvaz indicate that authorities carried out at least some of the arrests in response to anti-government slogans and graffiti spray-painted on public property expressing sympathy for the Arab Spring and calling for a boycott of Iran's parliamentary elections, scheduled for March 2, 2012. Human Rights Watch received information that Mohammad Kaabi, 34, and Nasser Alboshokeh Derafshan, 19, died in detention facilities run by local intelligence officials in Shush and Ahvaz respectively, apparently as a result of torture. The local activists say that most of those arrested are being held in incommunicado detention.

"There has been a blackout inside Iran on this latest round of arrests targeting Arab protesters and activists," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Authorities should immediately divulge the reasons for the arrests, give detainees access to family members and lawyers, bring all detainees promptly before a judge, and hold anyone responsible for torture to account."

Human Rights Watch expressed concern for those in custody. Based on past government actions some of those arrested could be at imminent risk of execution if they are convicted by revolutionary courts of national security crimes including terrorism or espionage, or face prosecution on such charges. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any charges that have been brought in these cases.

According to several Iranian Arab rights groups, security forces have since November 2011 arrested at least 18 Arab men in Hamidiyeh, 25 kilometers west of Ahvaz, the provincial capital. The first arrest, on November 28, was of the prominent activist Hasan Manabi, an elementary school principal, and his brother Ghabel. A close friend of Hasan Manabi told Human Rights Watch that security and intelligence forces had arrested him numerous times since 2005. He said that Manabi, who had told the friend about torture and ill-treatment at the hands of intelligence officials following earlier arrests, had decided in late 2010 to seek asylum in Turkey.

Manabi's friend told Human Rights Watch that the Intelligence Ministry summoned and detained Manabi's wife for several days to pressure him to return to Iran. Manabi returned in September 2011 and introduced himself to intelligence officials in Ahvaz, who interrogated him, then released him after several hours. But on November 28 intelligence agents raided Manabi's home and arrested him and his brother Ghabel. The authorities have since accused Hasan Manabi of spying for the United States and the United Kingdom, in addition to having ties with Arab opposition groups operating in Khuzestan province.

A local Khuzestan activist told Human Rights Watch that the latest round of arrests in Hamidiyeh began when security forces arrested nine Iranian Arabs on January 10 and four more on January 26 and 30. Most are between ages 20 and 28, and some had previously been detained for participating in demonstrations demanding more rights for Iran's ethnic Arab minority. At least one has been released on bail, the local activist said, and several others have since been arrested.

Authorities have also arrested at least 27 people in Shush, 115 kilometers northwest of Ahvaz, in recent weeks. A local activist there said that security forces, including plainclothes members of the Intelligence Ministry, initiated the arrests in response to anti-government slogans and graffiti spray-painted on public property expressing sympathy for the Arab Spring and calling for a boycott of Iran's parliamentary elections, scheduled for March 2. The activist said that security forces set up checkpoints throughout Shush. After they arrested Jasim Kaabi, his daughter Khadijeh, and his son Mohammad in their home on January 21, he said "people became angry and poured into the streets." In response, security forces arrested at least 24 men, most of them in their 20s, on January 25 and 26. The arrests took place in Ahmadabad, Khazireh, Davar, and several villages outside of Shush.

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