The Murder No One Is Talking About

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(Illustrative photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
(Illustrative photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Reports emerged on Wednesday that another Ahwazi Arab prisoner in Iran has died under torture in a prison, with horrific video footage showing marks left all over his body after it was returned to his family.  In addition, prison personnel warned the dead man’s family that they shouldn’t treat their loved one as a martyr, since he had been a “troublemaker” and incited riots amongst other prisoners, an allegation his family treated with contempt.

The body of 50-year-old Ali Sawari was returned to his family in the

Ali Sawari (Photo: Courtesy)
Ali Sawari (Photo: Courtesy)

Sepidar neighbourhood of Ahwaz city on Monday, March 26 by officers from Sheyban Prison near the regional capital. The distressing video footage shot by his family members, who risked their own lives to show the world the horrific torture inflicted on their beloved son, sibling, husband and father, shows his body covered in scars and bruises from torture.

According to family members, it seems probable that Sawari, a married father of four children, was tortured to death by an infamously sadistic guard known as Hamidian in retaliation for complaining about the atrocious conditions at the notorious prison.   Following his death, prison staff rushed his body to the morgue and called his family members to come and fetch it.

Hamidian is known across the region for his vicious and sadistic cruelty, and the depraved pleasure he takes in the brutal torture of Ahwazi political prisoners.

Sawari had been in prison for four years on trumped-up charges; a situations common for Ahwazi Arabs and members of other ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, which regularly used the threat of torture and imprisonment as a means to terrorize dissidents and activists into silence.

A family member of Sawari said that during a recent family visit with him, the last time they saw him alive, he told his family members that he was set to gather other prisoners to submit a formal complaint to prison officials about the pitifully small portions of food given to inmates and its putrid quality which he said was unfit for animals, as well as about the lice-infested, overcrowded cells which contributed to outbreaks of disease.

His relatives recalled that he told them he dreamt of eating fruit and vegetables after receiving only nauseating and minuscule rations of rotted food, adding that the prison staff distributing the food would subject prisoners to racist verbal and physical abuse whilst doing so, spitting in the inmates’ faces and food and taunting them by calling them “Arab animals.”

This sort of racism is the norm of regime officials towards Ahwazis and other ethnic minorities, where the regime actively encourages a culture of Persian supremacism.

Sawari’s relatives also said that he had told them about organizing several protests by inmates against the unsanitary conditions and the prison’s failure to use insecticide to kill the lice and other insects that infest the cells and spread disease.

His family members recalled telling him during that last visit that they had brought fruit, food, toiletries and clothes to the prison for him. They gave the items to prison staff who promised to pass them on to him. However, the items were most likely stolen by the guards as he never saw any of them.

Tragically, such shocking deaths are not rare for Ahwazis, with many prisoners being tortured to death in regime prisons in recent years. Although Ahwazi human rights groups have reached out to international humanitarian bodies and organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, these groups refuse to investigate the regime’s crimes.

This problem is exacerbated by the refusal of many Iranian human rights groups to give any consideration to the routine racist persecution and murder of ethnic minorities in the country. Media, too, are reluctant to mention the systematic human rights abuses of Ahwazi people.

The recent months have seen a sharp rise in the already high figures for arrest, detentions, tortures and deaths in prisons across Iran as the regime attempts to crush protests by its customary method of terrorizing dissidents into silence. Even before the protests, since President Hassan Rouhani — praised as a “moderate reformist” by the Obama administration —  first came to power, Iran has attained the status of having the world’s second highest number of per capita executions annually after China.

The regime blames deaths under torture on a variety of patently false excuses, including suicide, drug overdoses and fatal drug withdrawal.  Other prisoners who are believed to have died under torture include prominent Canadian-Iranian environmentalist Kavous Seyed Emami (reported as suicide).

Ahwazi activists are increasingly embittered by the way in which Iranian human rights groups and media focus solely on crimes committed in the central, ethnically Persian areas of Iran, while effectively ignoring the chronic and systematic abuse, persecution and racism towards the Ahwazis and other minority groups who are mainly concentrated around the country’s perimeters. These groups include the Kurds, Baluchis and Turkish Azeris.

Unfortunately, it seems that the United Nation’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights is implemented only very selectively and when it is politically expedient.



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Rahim Hamid

Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi Arab freelance journalist and human rights advocate.