IRAN: Outside the spotlight, Arab uprising smolders in country's southwest
As democratic movements rock the Middle East, a little-reported uprising in southwest Iran has largely escaped international attention, primarily due to the efforts of Iranian officials.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has for weeks cracked down on protesters in Ahvaz, the capital of the mostly ethnic Arab Khuzestan province, which has become a scene of ongoing unrest.
The violence began when the Iranian security apparatus, along with, as one Arab Iranian activist reported, paramilitary Basiji forces, suppressed an April 15 "Day of Rage" demonstration against the hard-line regime of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Similar to uprisings throughout the Arab world, the "Day of Rage" was organized through social network websites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The "Day of Rage" protest, which spread from Ahvaz to other cities in Khuzestan such as Abadan, Khorramshahr, Hamidieh, Mahshahr and Shadegan, commemorated of the Bloody Friday demonstration that took place on April 15, 2005, and led to the death of 20 Arab Iranians and the arrest of 250 others.
Iranian human rights activists have reported that in the last two weeks security personnel attacked peaceful protesters with live ammunition. Authorities have provided very little information on the situation following the crackdown. Little is known about the dead or injured since the protests began in mid-April. State news agencies have reported that "armed insurgents" were behind the killing of three people, including one officer.
“Iran has made it impossible to confirm the scale of the deadly violence against protesters in Khuzestan province, making transparent and independent investigations into alleged killings and arrests there absolutely essential,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
Witnesses told rights advocates that raids began in Ahvaz began on April 14, a day before the protest.
On April 21, state television reported the arrest of eight members of the “Arab Peoples Group." Iranian authorities attribute the unrest in the southwest region to what they call "Arab separatist groups."
"Daughter of Ahvaz," a female activist, told the website of Al Arabiya that 15 Arab Iranians have died in the region.
The ethnic Arab Iranian population in the area has complained that the city remains severely underdeveloped despite being rich in natural gas and oil. Protesters also believe that the Persian and Azeri majority nation has intensified long-standing discriminatory policies toward Arabs and other ethnic minorities.
-- Roula Hajjar in Beirut
Photo: An image from protests in southwestern Iran in mid-April. Credit: Al-Arabiya television