Thirteen Khuzestani Arabs were put on trial on May 21 in branch two of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Ahwaz, with Judge Seyyed Bagher Mousavi presiding. This is the fourth trial for these defendants, and there was only enough time for the court to process two of their cases: Hadi Rashedi, 38, and Hashem Shaabani, 31.
A few months earlier, the English-language news channel Press TV aired the alleged confessions of these two individuals in a program called “Iran Today” and introduced them as terrorists.
I interviewed Kamel Alboshokeh, a human-rights activist in London, about this trial and the demands and problems of the Arab community in Khuzestan.
Mr. Alboshokeh, let us begin with the topic of the film that was aired not so long ago on Press TV; the film that showed Mr. Rashedi and Mr. Shaabani confessing to terrorist activities. What is the story of this film and what is your opinion of it?
These people who were arrested are all residents of Ramshir and belong to the educated strata of the city, and many are high school teachers. These interviews were recorded and aired before the fourth trial, but in that trial both these individuals state that they submitted to these confessions in order to escape from torture.
Hadi Rashedi was sick before his arrest and was under medical treatment. In prison, his pelvis was broken as a result of the tortures he suffered. Hashem Shaabani was tortured with boiling water. It is not only the two who appeared on TV and made confessions who were subjected to torture. The others were tortured as well. Jaber Alboshokeh, 27, has a broken jaw; his brother Mokhtar Alboshokeh, 25, is getting fits and suffering from amnesia.
The other seven who are out on bail; what about them?
Their charges are acting against national security and links to abroad. We do not know what they exactly mean by foreign countries or groups. The government never presents proof to explain its charges. For instance, my cousin, 19-year-old Nasser Alboshokeh Derafshan, was arrested and tortured last year and finally murdered. The security forces charged him with acting against national security, but we still do not know what they mean by these actions against national security. You know that the charge of moharebeh (enmity against God) carries the death sentence. So we are very worried about these individuals.
What were the demands of the detainees? Are they aligned with the demands of a particular group or organization? Of course such an alignment should not justify their arrest. I am just asking to see if we can find a reason for the trial.
No. They are not members of any group. In effect, no one in Iran can have any political demands. They did have a series of legal and cultural demands. The government makes the charge political in order to be able to easily suppress them. Their demands are things such as speaking their mother tongue, the right to get education in the Arabic language, to gather for Arabic poetry recitals. Since Ahmadinejad has come to power, we have not even had the right to hold an Arabic poetry night in Khuzestan.
Political activities and such things are mere accusations. Mokhtar Alboshokeh was a soldier. He spent six days of the week in the military barracks of the Revolutionary Guards. How could he have done anything against national security? Or Mohammad Ali Amouri, who was in an Iraqi prison and was deported to Iran and later arrested and incarcerated by the Iranian authorities.
Why was Mohammad Ali Amouri in an Iraqi prison?
For illegal entry into Iraq. One his companions died under torture in the Iraqi prison. He applied for asylum in Iraq but was turned down and he was deported to Iran despite protests from human rights groups. In Iran, he was arrested and is currently in jail and is now one these very 13 people.
Did Mr. Amouri apply for asylum because he is a political or social activist?
No. They have cultural and economic issues. They say, for example: why is it that 80 percent of the country’s wealth is generated by Khuzestan but the people of the region suffer from the highest rate of unemployment? The policies of the Islamic Republic government are anti-Arab. Yes, in general, it is against all minorities but it has a special aversion toward Arabs. Why are they especially trying to change the demographics of the regions? Why do they make excuses to confiscate the lands of the region’s farmers? Most of the people in the region are farmers. They are running people off their lands. They say it is a national project to turn these lands into sugar cane farms.
Is the government compensating the farmers for the losses they suffer?
They take acres of land from the farmers and give very little in return. The farmers cannot do anything with this money: they can’t build a new house or buy another piece of land. Several villages have already been destroyed in this manner. They have to go to the cities and rent a house or live on the edges of a city like Ahwaz. I believe that the government is trying to impoverish the people of the region.
Are there any statistics regarding the destruction of villages due to the sugar cane project?
We have no specific statistics, but three villages have been evacuated around Shooshtar. In Ramshir, one was evacuated. Some are evacuated for the sugar cane project, others for being close to military bases.
In Tarifeh, a village near Ahwaz, when villagers protested the confiscation of their lands, two of the villagers were killed by the authorities.
Khuzestan television announced that the government is building towns for the settlement of nomadic groups. But no towns are being built for Arab nomadic groups, even though nomadic Lors are getting towns built for them.
Last year, Ahmadinejad travelled to Khuzestan and built a township in Andimeshk. Or Ramin Township near Ahwaz, right in the middle of farm lands. People who come there are civil servants and, as these towns expand, they change the population balance.
Do Arabs have any restrictions with regard to living in these townships or any other place in Khuzestan?
No, but the issue is different. When the government brings a group of people and settles them in an area, it means that it has a specific policy or behind-the-scenes plan. Arabs can live wherever they want, but the issue is that the government is following a targeted plan. In terms of Ahwaz, the government is deliberately increasing the number of immigrants. Immigrants from Lorestan and other Persian regions have been on the rise in Ahwaz.
Are Arabs also moving out of Khuzestan? Or is it that only non-Arabs are moving in?
No, Arabs are not being moved out, but non-Arabs are being moved into the province. The government is trying to turn Arabs into a minority in Khuzestan.
What are the main demands of Iranian-Arab activists?
We want to be regarded as first-class citizens, not second-class ones. We want a fair part of oil revenues. The province that produces the largest part of the country’s wealth has the highest unemployment rate. They do not give us the right to study in our mother tongue. Arab names have been recently forbidden. Or names of Khuzestan cities are being changed to Persian names.
[tranalted from the original in Persian]