2 November 2018- The Islamic Republic of Iran’s ongoing response to the 22 September deadly armed attack in Ahwaz is raising concerns among human rights defenders, as authorities in Khuzestan continue to arbitrarily arrest and detain large numbers of Ahwazi Arabs

In a statement published today by Amnesty International, the organization calls on Iranian authorities to “release immediately and unconditionally anyone being held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly or solely on account of their ethnic identity.” This call comes as a response to the seemingly politically-motivated mass arrests made against members of an already marginalized ethnic minority group.

According to Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, “The scale of arrests in recent weeks is deeply alarming. The timing suggests that the Iranian authorities are using the attack in Ahvaz as an excuse to lash out against members of the Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority, including civil society and political activists, in order to crush dissent in Khuzestan province.”

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence is working in tandem with other government security forces to arrest members of the Ahwazi Arab community while showing complete disregard for internationally established standards of due process and rights of detainees. The security forces have refused to present arrest warrants and most of those arrested are being detained incommunicado and deprived of access to legal counsel and family members. As Amnesty International has reported, most detainees are being held in conditions that may amount to enforced disappearance, putting them at grave risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment and abuse.

Activists outside Iran have provided Amnesty International with the names of 178 arrestees, although the organization says that the real number may be much higher. According to Amnesty International, credible sources have informed them that Ahwazi Arab civil society activists are among those who are being detained, contrary to the claims of Khuzestan’s Governor Gholamreza Shariati.

Prior to the crackdown, Ahwazi Arabs had long faced arbitrary and systematic barriers to cultural and language rights, access to education, and social and economic rights such as employment and housing and had been scapegoated in previous counter-terrorism initiatives by the government, similar to the one currently underway. Iran’s violent campaign following the 22 September attack comes as a troubling indication of human rights abuses to Amnesty International. AI’s Philip Luther has emphasized that “Iran’s appalling track record of persecuting and discriminating against members of the Ahwazi Arab community raises suspicions that these arrests are being carried out arbitrarily and are politically motivated.”

In September, Justice for Iran sent a letter to Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, calling on her to ensure that the rights of Iranian citizens in Ahwaz are protected in the aftermath of the deadly armed attack. In the letter, Justice for Iran also raised its concerns about the likelihood that Iran’s authorities would respond to the attack by violating the human rights of Ahwazi Arabs and called for an independent investigation to identify the attack’s perpetrators.