The Iranian authorities have waged a sweeping crackdown against the Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority, arresting hundreds of people in Khuzestan province, southern Iran, in recent weeks, according to Amnesty International.
The wave of detentions follows an early October attack on a military parade in Iran’s southwestern city of Ahwaz.
Gunmen opened fire on an military parade in the city of Ahwaz, killing at least 25 people, including civilians, and injuring 60, state media reported. Nearly half of those killed were members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, reports say.
There were also conflicting reports about the four attackers, with state media saying all four had been killed after local deputy governor Ali Hosein Hoseinzadeh said two of the four had been arrested.
As for who carried out the attack, there was confusion over the names of groups that either claimed responsibility or were blamed for the attacks
According to IRNA, the separatist group Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement in Ahwaz claimed responsibility for the attack.
Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement in Ahwaz later rejected IRNA’s report that it had claimed responsibility for the attack.
it remained unclear who was exactly responsible, as claims and denials followed.
Several Iranian officials vowed a strong response to those responsible and claimed foreign countries were behind the terror plot.
AI notes that the Islamic Republic has used the deadly attack on the military parade as an excuse to go after Arab ethnic rights activists across Khuzestan.
“The Iranian authorities are using the attack in Ahwaz as an excuse to lash out against members of the Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority, including civil society and political activists, in order to crush dissent in Khuzestan province,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“All those suspected of criminal responsibility for the horrific attack in Ahwaz must be brought to justice”, Luther asserted.
Those arrested include political and minority rights activists, AI said, adding, “The arrests have taken place in towns, cities and villages across Khuzestan province including Ahwaz, Hamidiyeh, Khorramshahr and Shush. The mass arrests have created a climate of fear among the Ahwazi Arab community, which already faces persecution and discrimination in Iran.”
Responding to the Governor of Khuzestan province, Gholamreza Shariati’s recent comments that there are no civil society activists, women and children among those detained, Amnesty International says it has received credible information that students, writers, civil society, minority rights and political activists have been arrested at their homes, places of work or in the streets.
“Among those detained is Sahba(Lamya) Hammadi, a civil society activist who is pregnant. She was arrested on 6 October at her home in the city of Susangerd in Khuzestan province. She contacted her family the day she was arrested but her family have not heard from her since”, AI reported.
Moreover, according to AI “Zoudieh Afrawi and Gheysieh Afrawi, two women from Susangerd, were arrested separately in their homes on October 22. Their children had been arrested earlier in the day. They both telephoned relatives a week after their arrests and told them they were being held by the Ministry of Intelligence. Their relatives have not heard from them since.”
In its latest statement, Amnesty International has called on the Iranian authorities to release immediately and unconditionally anyone being held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly or solely on account of their ethnic identity.