Iran in new crackdown on Arab minority

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  • Hundreds detained in city of Ahvaz, the regional capital of Khuzestan, where most of Iran’s Arabs live.
  • Ahvaz rights group says protesters are being held on charges including separatism, militancy or being “agents of Saudi Arabia.”

LONDON: Iranian security forces have arrested hundreds of ethnic Arabs as the Tehran regime steps up its repression of protesters in the restive southwestern Khuzestan province.

Police have a launched a new crackdown in the city of Ahvaz amid protests against utility cuts, poverty, discrimination and Iran’s involvement in foreign wars.

Ahvaz Human Rights Organization says that of the hundreds detained, it has identified 70. They are being held on charges including separatism, militancy or being “agents of Saudi Arabia.” Dozens have also been summoned, interrogated and released.

Released prisoners said they had come under pressure from security forces, especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, not to talk about their detention. They said they were subjected to routine beatings, threats and torture with electric shocks.

Ahvaz is the regional capital of Khuzestan, where most of Iran’s Arabs live. They joined nationwide protests in January against economic mismanagement and corruption, and clashes broke out between police and demonstrators.

Sporadic protests continued there after they died away elsewhere, as Arabs voiced anger at barriers to fair employment and political rights in a region that accounts for 85 percent of Iran’s oil wealth.

Another cause of unrest is drought, exacerbated by the diversion of water supplies to ethnically Persian provinces such as Isfahan. Protesters say Iran should not be spending money in Syria, Iraq and Yemen while Iranians are struggling.

At a protest in Ahvaz, protesters drew parallels with the Syrian city of Aleppo, where Iran is building power plants. “Ahvaz is like Aleppo, it has no electricity, no water,” they chanted at the rally before police broke it up.

Among the hundreds arrested in recent weeks was Ma’edeh Shabaninejad, 15, who has been accused of inciting violence through her poetry. Security forces raided her home and confiscated her poems.

“Resist, my homeland, there is not much left of you,” one of her verses said. “Soon you will hear in your sky the sound of smiles and liberation’s call.” The girl’s father, Sahid Shabaninejad, said: “I am amazed the Iranian government is afraid of a 15-year-old girl.”

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