Karim Lahidji, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and president of the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDDHI), said today: “The authorities in Iran have launched a new wave of repression against several Iranian ethnic communities, including the Baluchis, Arabs and Azeris. They are acting in complete defiance of the recommendations made by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in its August 2010 concluding observations, where the Committee strongly criticised the denial of rights of the ‘Arab, Azeri, Baluchi, Kurdish communities and some communities of non-citizens’ in Iran and called on the authorities to take measures to protect them effectively.”
On 14 May 2012, the security forces fired on the people who were protesting the arrest of 15 people including two local Baluchi Sunni prayer leaders and their close relatives in the city of Rasak, in the south-eastern Sistan-Baluchistan province. At least one person was killed and several others were injured. Subsequently, on 20 May 2012, the prosecutor of the provincial capital Zahedan linked the arrests to the February 2012 assassination of a pro-government mosque prayer leader who had also been commander of the local unit of the Basij militia. He claimed that six people had been detained for alleged participation in the assassination. The detainees are at risk of torture and other ill treatment, unfair trials and may be sentenced to death.
On 21 May 2012, trial of several members of the Iranian Arab ethnic community started in Ahvaz, the provincial capital of Khuzestan in south-western Iran. At least six of them are facing the vague charges of moharebeh (fighting against God) and ‘corruption on earth’, both of which can carry the death sentence. Some of the defendants have spent more than a year in detention, mostly without access to lawyers. According to some sources, the first two defendants told the court that they had been forced to make false confessions under severe torture.
On the same day, the security forces attacked and detained scores of peaceful protestors in the western cities of Tabriz (provincial capital of East-Azerbaijan) and Urumiyeh (provincial capital of West Azerbaijan). The protests marked the anniversary of 2006 demonstrations against the government’s discriminatory policies against the Azeri ethnic community and the government’s policies in relation to Lake Urumiyeh, which is at risk of drying according to environmental activists. In Urumiyeh, police reportedly used batons and tear gas against the protestors and fired paint bullets at them to identify them later.
Iranian ethnic communities are systemically denied their political, civil, economic, cultural (including language) and social rights.
Azeri cultural and rights activists have been facing severe persecution for many years. Sa’eed Matinpour, an Azeri journalist and minority rights activist, has been serving an 8-year imprisonment sentence since 2007 and is reported to be in great need of medical care.
The Iranian Kurd, Baluch and Arab communities face greater political repression, with political and civil activists frequently facing the death penalty on vague charges after unfair trials, where confessions extracted under torture are admitted in court.
Mohammad Sadiq Kaboudvand, founder and president of the Human Rights Organisation of Kurdistan, has been serving a sentence of 10 years and six months since July 2007. Having suffered a heart attack in 2008 and three strokes in 2008 and 2010, he has been consistently denied medical care and his life is at risk. Several Kurdish journalists and students are serving long-term prison sentences and a number of Kurdish political prisoners are on death row. Farzad Kamangar, a Kurdish teacher, was executed in May 2010 after months of torture and an unfair trial.
In April 2005, the Arabs of Khuzestan took to the streets in protest against reports about government’s plans to change the demographic structure of the province; scores of people were reportedly killed. Since then, the authorities have arbitrarily detained tens of cultural and rights activists every year on the eve of the anniversary of those protests. There have been frequent reports of execution of Arab political prisoners in Khuzestan on vague charges after unfair trials.
The Baluch minority has faced widespread discrimination for many years. In recent years, a large number of Baluch political prisoners as well as a number of Baluch Sunni clerics have been executed in the area, and scores of people have reportedly been killed in extrajudicial executions.
For further information, see The Hidden Side of Iran: Discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, a joint FIDH-LDDHI report