A few hours before their execution, four Iranian prisoners managed to release a video in which they condemned the marginalisation of the Ahwazis, an Arab minority from southwest Iran.
In the video, below, illegally recorded in prison, the Heidarian brothers also say they are innocent and claim that their confessions had been extracted by torture. They call on human rights organisations to increase pressure on Tehran’s authorities to put a stop to executions.
It is difficult to find out what is happening in this region. Many people there fear that phone and Internet communications might be intercepted by Iran’s intelligence services. Thus, very little information about this case has made it outside the country.
The Heidarian brothers, Taha (28 years old), Abbas (25) and Abdalrahman (23), as well as their friend Ali Sharif, were executed late June in the Karoun prison in the city of Ahwaz, which is the capital of Khuzestan province. Arrested during protests in Ahwaz in April 2011, they were convicted for “enmity against God and corruption on earth”. In a statement from June 22, Amnesty International indicates that their arrest “is related to the death of a law enforcement officer” during the demonstrations. However, organisations for the defence of the Ahwazi community claim that the brothers and their friend were convicted for drug trafficking.
In its public statement, Amnesty International denounced “an unfair trial lacking any transparency”, emphasising that “[the four prisoners] were not represented by lawyers of their choice”.
Ahwazi Arabs consider themselves discriminated against when it comes to access to education, housing and public healthcare services. Many are also deprived of any identification papers, and thus cannot vote or run for office. Because of this, a secessionist movement calling for an independent Arab state is forming within the community.
In April 2011, demonstrations organised in several towns in this region to mark the sixth anniversary of an uprising in 2005 gave rise to violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement, particularly in Malashiya, a small town 20 kilometres from Ahwaz, where the Heidarian brothers and Sharifi grew up. At least 27 people were killed, according to Amnesty International.
Several human rights organisations, backed by figures such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, have condemned the executions and called for Iran to abolish the death penalty.
Here is an extract from Taha Heidarian’s statement on behalf of the four men sentenced to death:
“I am from Malashiya in Ahwaz. I was arrested on April 20, 2011. I spent three months in a detention centre run by the intelligence services where I was subjected to psychological and physical torture. My brothers and I were kept in dark cells. We were blindfolded.
They threatened to kill us if we did not cooperate and admit to what they told us to say [...]. They tortured us in front of Ahmadi, the prosecutor for section 18 of the Revolutionary Tribunal of Ahwaz. The president of section 4 of the Revolutionary Tribunal, Mortaza Kiasati, sentenced me, my brothers Abbas and Abderrahmane as well as my friend Ali Sharifi, to death by hanging. We still do not know when this sentence will be carried out.
We live in a very poor area, where tens of thousands of families live. It is located near the biggest steel production plant in Iran, but the majority of employees do not come from Ahwaz. Our area has the highest levels of poverty, unemployment and drug trafficking and the lowest levels of access to public and health services. All we get from the gas and petrol fields is the smoke.”
“The Iranian authorities marginalise anyone who is not Persian”
Taha Amjad is the spokesman for the European Ahwazi Human Rights Organisation based in London. He is in daily contact with activists in the region.
Violence broke out last week between protestors and the police. Many activists, having heard about the Heidarian brothers, had gathered to offer their condolences to the family. Fuelled by anger, they burnt tyres and threw stones at the police to prevent them from entering the neighbourhood. Tribal leaders from the region were arrested and warned that, unless they calmed the young people down, they would suffer the consequences. According to the information I have been given, many soldiers are still patrolling the streets of Malashiya, but the situation has calmed down.I know the person who filmed the Haiderian brothers’ video. It is someone with ties to local authorities. He was able to enter the prison only a few hours before the three brothers and their friend were executed. I cannot release his name, but I will say that this person is preparing to leave the country.Activists on the ground have confirmed that the bodies of the four victims have still not been returned to their families. The families have gone from cemetery to cemetery and now believe that their children have been buried in a Laa’nat Abad [a space called the “cemetery of the cursed”, a plot of land where those sentenced to death are buried]The Iranian authorities marginalise anyone who is not Persian. Arabs are persecuted in particular due to their geographical position and the diplomatic situation [the Khuzestan region is located on the eastern shores of the Persian Gulf, not far from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, whose relations with Iran have been tense for several years]The Khuzestan province contains over 80% of Iran’s gas and petrol reserves. So why are its citizens the country’s poorest? A family of four from Ahwaz survives on 20 dollars a month, whereas the average salary for an Iranian is between 80 and 90 dollars per month.