Like other minorities in Iran, Ahvazis face additional hurdles of brutality and systematic racism at the hands of the regime, in addition to the standard dangers of persecution and imprisonment facing all dissidents.
Thousands of Ahvazis have been subjected to arbitrary arrest, torture and imprisonment by the Iranian regime for activism and for protesting to demand fundamental freedoms and human rights, with executions being routine.
The regime detains activists on the pretext of fabricated offences, charging them with crimes such as “insulting the sacred principles of the Islamic Republic,” “blasphemy,” “acting against national security” and “having contact with foreign enemies of the Islamic Republic" (usually understood to be a reference to Israel or the United States).
The kangaroo trials at the regime’s “Revolutionary Courts,” which are simply a rubber-stamp formality with no representation for the prisoners, take only a few minutes, with the prisoners’ confessions, extracted under torture, constituting the only evidence against them.
The regime nominally prohibits torture according to Article 38 of its own constitution which stipulates: “All forms of torture for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information are forbidden.”
This article is, of course, purely for show, with physical and psychological torture being the norm rather than the exception in the regime’s prisons and infamous ‘black site’ secret detention centers across the country which are essentially custom-built torture facilities.
For this article, we spoke with three Ahvazi former detainees, who recounted their own terrible experiences and talked about their wishes for the future. All chose to use false names, having a well-founded fear of persecution if they were identified by the regime.
"They killed my soul.”
The first prisoner, Ahmed, said:
I was released from Sheyban Prison a few days ago after spending eight months in solitary confinement and two years in prison. I’ve heard hundreds of accounts from other prisoners of torture, of having their ribs broken, their muscles torn — terrible things.
For myself, they applied electrodes to my genitals — ran high voltage electricity through them. When the agents wanted to get confessions or information, they threatened to bring my wife and daughter — to beat and rape them in front of me — and I know they would do that.
During one interrogation session, while I was blindfolded, suddenly, they threw water into my face, then pushed my head back, forced my mouth open and poured burning, peppery liquid into it and into my nose. I was screaming and choking, the pain was intense and lasted for a week.
I survived it all physically, but they killed my soul. They destroyed my human dignity.
Ahmed stressed, “The West can’t negotiate with this regime. It’s the most criminal — the most depraved in the world. Its real face isn’t the one they see, all smiling faces and nice handshakes. The European leaders believe in human rights; I call on them to stop negotiating with this regime which gives no human rights. It’s killing more and more.”
He continued, “Now, at least 600 Ahvazis have been arrested in the past few months, but we see no action against the regime. Where are all the human rights organizations, where are Amnesty International and those organizations?"
Arrested for books
Another former prisoner, Fouad, currently lives in London but is still nervous about giving his name, knowing the regime’s overseas intelligence operatives routinely target exiled dissidents.
He recalled his own detention, saying:
I was arrested in 2014 for selling Arabic books and for having a very small library of Arabic books in my home. When they arrested me, they confiscated all my books simply because they were in Arabic.
They abused me verbally, called me every demeaning name like “pig face” and “apostate.” They took me to one of their torture centers … nobody outside Iran can imagine the regime’s evil.
I’ve read about the Spanish Inquisitions and Pinochet’s secret prisons in Chile, but the Iranian regime is far worse. The smell of blood is everywhere in these places. The cruelty annihilates the people’s dignity — prisoners are debased and humiliated physically and mentally till they lose their sense of themselves.
There’s no independent or international oversight of the prisons and detention centers, so the security and intelligence officers working there have total freedom to be as cruel as they want, to abuse their power in every way. They inflict every kind of heinous torture, especially on dissidents. The more important the dissident is, or the more they need information from him, the more horrific the torture will be.
Fouad added that the trauma of his arrest during a raid on the family’s home had also affected his son, who is now 11 years old.
“He’s still receiving counseling from psychiatrists due to the trauma he experienced on the day of my arrest and hasn’t been able to get over that yet,” Fouad explained. “Although we live in London now, and I receive psychotherapy and am on medicine to help reduce stress, I still wake up screaming some nights from the nightmares and flashbacks.”
Isolated from the world
A third Ahvazi former detainee, Mohammed — a friend of Fouad’s who’s also now managed to escape Iran and lives in London — recalled his own similarly traumatic experience:
I spent 11 months in solitary confinement, 11 months of physical and mental torture. The cell was no more than two meters square. I was completely isolated from the world – they never allowed my family any contact; they weren’t even allowed any information about me or what was happening to me in prison.
Several days after I was captured, one of the jailers came to me. He brought me out of the cell. I thought I was going to be released, I was so happy.
I asked the jailer, “Where are you taking me?” He wouldn’t answer. Then he took me into a smaller cell, and he said, “Sit here till you die.” Then he beat and kicked me until I collapsed on the floor. I was locked in that room for a day-and-a-half without food or water. I thought I was going to die.
Another prison officer came to me and said, “Haven’t you confessed yet?”
I said, “What do you want me to confess to?” Then he began beating me mercilessly all over until blood was flowing from every part of my body. He left the cell while I was lying on the ground covered in blood and unable to move.
In prison, everything is devoid of humanity.
Mohammed paused for a moment, overcome by emotion, before continuing:
The screams of other prisoners woke me up every morning. The sounds of them being beaten with steel bars pierced my ears. They used to beat me with lengths of heavy plastic piping. There were also slaps, punches, kicks, and they’d electrocute us, and hit us with machinegun-butts.
In prison, everything is devoid of humanity. There is no human dignity at all.
The most emotionally painful aspect of his imprisonment, he said, was the terrible guilt over his mother’s death shortly after he was detained:
My mother suffered a stroke after the regime raid on my home when they arrested me. She lost the ability to speak and died soon afterward. I feel guilty for her death. I have this sense that I caused it. I said more than once that if it hadn’t been for that brutal raid my mother wouldn’t have died.
When she died, I was still in prison. My family tried every possible way to get a temporary release to allow me to attend her funeral. But their efforts came to nothing.
Mohammed, who continues to campaign and raise awareness for the Ahvazi cause, voiced frustration at the international community’s failure to help in ending the suffering of the Ahvazi people and the injustices inflicted on them for decades.
Talking about himself, Fouad and other former prisoners, he said:
Our suffering’s only a small example — there are countless heartbreaking accounts from people like us whose stories remain unheard and are buried with them. Ahvaz is one big open-air prison and our people’s suffering won’t end soon unless the world supports us and exposes the terrible crimes against our people.
The Western nations, the countries of the EU which claim to value human rights, must recognize the suffering of the Ahvazi people and stop normalizing and doing deals with the Iranian regime, which stole our lands and our resources to get rich from the oil there, and left us nothing but poverty, pollution and pain.