Unconfirmed reports claim that 22 prisoners with possible links to the September 2018 terror attack in Ahvaz have been executed. So far Iranian officials have neither confirmed or denied the claims, which have been published primarily on social media. Along with the reports, human rights advocates and independent journalists have speculated that the detainees are not linked to the attacks at all, but that they are civil society activists from Iran's Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority.
Gholamreza Shariati, the governor of Khuzestan province, told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that the reports are “utter falsehood” [Persian link] and Jamal Alami-Neysi, governor of the city of Ahvaz also denied that the 22 detainees had been executed. However, the security forces and the judiciary — who are most likely to know — have not commented.
On Saturday, September 22, four gunmen attacked a military parade in the city of Ahvaz, the capital of the southwestern province of Khuzestan, killing 24 and injuring 69. According to Iranian officials, three of the gunmen were killed in the shootout and the fourth, who was injured, was taken to hospital where he later died. Both ISIS and the Al-Ahwaz Arab Liberation Movement separately claimed responsibility for the attack. To prove its claim ISIS published a video of the assailants before setting out for their mission.
The terrorist attack, however, led to hundreds of arrests. “The scale of arrests...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,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Some Khuzestani Arab activists claim that the detainees were executed in secret and that their families had not been informed. Human rights activists have raised questions about the reports. They say that the 45 days that have passed since their arrests is too short a time to prove their guilt, and that they have had no access to a lawyer. In Iran, in cases deemed to be linked to matters of national security, defendants are allowed lawyers after the interrogations and before trials.
Settling Other Accounts
Human rights activists say that if the reports are indeed true and the accused have been executed without a trial, then it means that the government of the Islamic Republic has exploited the terrorist attack to settle accounts with the opposition movement in Khuzestan.
According to reports, Mohammad Momeni Timas, an Arab ethnic and cultural rights activist, and his son Nassar Momeni are among those who have been executed. Nassar Momeni was arrested months before the terrorist attack and his father was arrested on September 30 when he went to the Revolutionary Court in Ahvaz to inquire about the fate of his son. In the days following the terrorist attack, Revolutionary Guards intelligence agents arrested two of Mohammad Momeni’s other sons, Ahmad and Osama.
The reports say that on November 10, the family of one of the detainees was called in by the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization in Ahvaz and handed their son’s death certificate. They were told that they were not allowed to hold a public memorial service. But apart from this family, who has been in contact with Arab activists outside Iran, none of the other detainees’ families have made statements or published any news about the fate of their loved ones.
The Uncomplete List
But Karim Dahimi, an Arab rights activist based in London, told IranWire that after the news of the execution, the families of the other detainees were desperate to find out about what happened. In the end, a lawyer and a prison official told them in an unofficial capacity that all 22 people had been executed.
Dahimi does not have a complete list of the people who were allegedly executed. “We learned about the arrests after the Intelligence Ministry’s announcement about the attack in Ahvaz,” he said. “Besides these 22, many more Arab citizens of Ahvaz, reportedly between 600 to 800, were arrested, including women, teachers and ordinary citizens without any record of political activities. A number of them were released on bail.”
Dahimi says that as of now the identities of only 190 of the detainees are known. “Threats and the intimidation of the families have made it difficult to get reliable information,” he said. “Yesterday a friend of mine informed me about the family that had been summoned to the Intelligence Unit and were given their son’s birth certificate. They told the family that he had been executed on Thursday [November 8], stressed that they could not have a funeral and had the family sign a pledge in this regard. At this moment only one family has officially confirmed the news of the execution but a prison official has told some other families that the rest have been executed as well. I cannot be sure whether these individuals have been executed or have died under torture during the interrogations. We have received other names and we are investigating.”
The reports cannot be reliably confirmed or denied because “the families have no reliable news of their children,” Dahimi said. “For example, take the case of Mr. Mohammad Momeni Timas,` whose execution we heard about. Some people close to the family say that the report is true and his family has been threatened against talking about it but others are saying that the report is not true. That is why we are not sure whether to trust the news or whether there have been mistakes.”
He said that Momeni’s son had disappeared around eight months ago and his father was trying to find out about him. “He was even told that he had gone to Turkey but in the end he found out that his son was in Tehran’s Evin Prison. And today we hear that they are on the list of those that perhaps have been executed.”
Dahimi said that, according to some of the inmates at Sheyban Prison in Ahvaz, prison officials cut off the phone communication between the prisoners and their families on Tuesday, a couple of days before the reported executions. He believes that, perhaps, this action was taken so that the news of the executions would not leak to the outside world.
Yousef Azizi Bani-Torof, an Iranian Arab journalist and Arab rights activist living in exile in London, said he discovered where the detainees were kept after the Intelligence Ministry published photographs of them. “The pictures were taken in the backyard of a secret prison in the Ahvaz neighborhood of Zeitoon,” he said. “I know the backyard because I was a prisoner there for some time.”
“They had announced that those few from ISIS who had participated in the Ahvaz attack had been killed and that even their commanders in Iraq had been killed by forces friendly to Iran,” Azizi said.
The Past Record
“Nevertheless, they arrested these 22 and then arrested a few hundred more people in Ahvaz in connection with the attack. Today we received news that these 22, or some of them, have been executed. We have no idea whether all of them have been executed or only some of them. Considering the past record of the Islamic Republic, it would not be strange even if all of them have been executed. We all remember the execution of 16 Baluchis in Sistan and Baluchistan or the mass execution of Sunni prisoners at Rajaei Shahr Prison.”
Besides Mohammad Momeni and his son Nassar, Yousef Azizi says that has received news that four other detainees — Ahmad Heydari, Hatam Savari, Ahmad Silawi and Ali Beit-Sayyah — had also been executed as well.
He said he didn’t understand why Nassar Momeni, who had been arrested eight months ago, would have been executed now. “There are rumors that he rejected the offer to cooperate with the Intelligence Ministry and that is why he was killed under torture,” Azizi said. “In any case, this what we hear from inside Iran. Whether true or not, if these people were indeed executed it means that the due process of law had not been observed. The time between September 22 and today, November 10, is too short for proving the charges and for carrying out the verdict. Under the laws of Iran, they had the right to appeal to the appeals court and the Supreme Court. You cannot execute people in an improvised court with the intention of taking revenge.”
The Terrorist Attack in Ahvaz, September 22, 2018
Terror in Ahvaz, September 24, 2018
ISIS Claims Responsibility for Ahvaz Terror Attack, September 24, 2018
Iranian Arab Groups Who Oppose the Islamic Republic, September 24, 2018
Ahvaz Terror Attack: A Soldier’s Story, September 24, 2018