On the morning of September 22, 2018, a military parade commemorating the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war in the south-western Iranian city of Ahvaz was attacked by armed men who were killed at the scene.
Five years later, the Islamic Republic used this attack as a pretext to execute Habib Chaab, a leader of the Arab opposition Harkat al-Nizal party.
The human rights group Etihad for Iran and the Atlas of Iran's Prisons website issued a report revealing major discrepancies in Chaab's case.
What are the findings of this report, and why do Arab activists in Iran claim that an innocent person has been hanged? IranWire reviewed the report and asked Arab political activist Mehdi Hashemi and human rights lawyer Ahmed Hamid for details.
The Accusations against were Chaab
Habib Chaab, a 50-year-old Iranian-Swedish dual citizen, was executed on May 6. His friends describe him as an educated, composed and reflective person who was attentive to others.
He was charged with "terrorism" over his alleged participation in the attack on the military parade. The assault purportedly resulted in the death of 25 people and left 70 others injured.
Chaab was sentenced to death on this charge, as well as on similar accusations related to a series of bombings that targeted government and public buildings in 2005, which the government attributed to Harak al-Nizal.
According to the website of the Human Rights Headquarters of the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic, other accusations were leveled against him, including cooperation with the Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl and involvement in attacks on two pipelines.
In the video of his “confessions,” which was released by the Public Relations and Information Center of the Ministry of Intelligence, Chaab speaks for only a few seconds. The whole footage lasts 2 minutes and 47 seconds.
In those edited segments, the accused does not confess any role in the attacks attributed to him.
Previous reports by human rights organizations detailed the torture endured by this political activist following his abduction in Turkey.
Was Chaab Involved in the Ahvaz Attack?
The report by Etihad for Iran and the Atlas of Iran's Prisons website highlighted several points showing that the Islamic State extremist group, commonly known as ISIS, is responsible for the assault on the parade, and that Chaab and Harkat Al-Nizal have had no role in it.
It cited the release of a video by the attackers ahead of the assault, the discovery of an ISIS flag in their headquarters after the incident and the group’s claim of responsibility.
And less than two weeks after the assault, the Revolutionary Guards conducted strikes in areas under ISIS control in Syria, saying they aimed at "the positions of the leaders of the Ahvaz terrorist attack."
Arab political activist Mehdi Hashemi told IranWire that the Harak al-Nizal movement “had been unable to mount significant actions against the Islamic Republic regime for many years.”
“The movement had dwindled to a mere television network, primarily engaged in propaganda," he added.
Hashemi emphasized that the propaganda machine of the Islamic Republic sought to suppress secular, leftist and Arab nationalist groups active in Khuzestan province, where Ahvaz is located.
"To achieve this, they deliberately disregarded the ethnic background of one of the attackers, who was Lor, and instead highlighted the Arab ethnicity of the other three assailants," he explained.
One of the reasons recently cited to implicate Harak al-Nizal and Chhab in the Ahvaz attack was an interview of Yaqoub Hor Testari, the spokesperson of the movement at the time. In the interview, Testari declared that the National Resistance of Ahvaz was responsible for the attack.
Two activists from Khuzestan, Mehdi Hashemi and Ahmad Hamid, told IranWire that the National Resistance of Ahvaz does not actually exist, and there is no individual or organization operating under that name in the province.
"What is the National Resistance of Ahvaz? We do not know, and nobody else knows either, because there is no party, movement or organization called Ahvaz National Resistance," Hamid said.
Testari retracted his accusation after the interview, but the government's propaganda apparatus continued to use the interview to build a case against a group of Arab political activists both within and outside Iran, including Chhab.
Poland Denies Iranian Extradition Request
Ahmed Hamid is a lawyer who was involved in the defense of those accused in relation with the 2005 protests in Ahvaz, known as the "Ahvaz intifada."
The protests were sparked by a document that revealed an alleged plan by the government to alter the demographics of Khuzestan. The government claimed the document was fake.
Hamid also played a role in the trial of several members of Harkat al-Nizal during that period. He withdrew from the legal profession and left Iran due to the lack of a fair trial process in the cases.
In an interview with IranWire, Hamid discussed the accusations against Chaab in relation to the alleged bombings in Ahvaz.
"In March 2019, one year prior to his abduction in Turkey, Chhab traveled to Poland. Following a request by the Iranian government, an Interpol alert was issued, leading to his arrest and subsequent imprisonment for a month or two,” he explained.
"The Polish court sought to determine whether he could be extradited to Iran or be detained in Poland. The court examined the case and ultimately ruled in favor of his release, allowing Habib to return to Sweden."
Hamid pointed out that the accusations against Chhab were presented in the Polish court, where “all the falsehoods have been exposed."
Limited documentation has been made available regarding the court proceedings.
The Human Rights Headquarters of the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic mentioned it in a report saying that Poland “released Chaab after his arrest, following requests from the United States and Sweden."
“His Demise Was a Case of Murder and State Terrorism”
Hashemi, the Arab political activist, strongly believes that Chhab fell victim to the intelligence apparatus of the Islamic Republic, which sought to fabricate accusations against him in Europe, particularly in Sweden, in response to the incarceration of Iranian former official Hamid Nouri.
A Swedish court sentenced Nouri to life in prison in 2022.
"Habib is innocent because the entire process leading to his demise was a case of murder and state terrorism. Habib didn't end up in Turkey by chance. He was forcibly taken from Paris to Iraq in a complex operation, similar to what happened to Ruhollah Zam, and then from Sweden to Turkey in another complex operation involving various individuals. There, he was attacked, rendered unconscious, and transported to Iran with his hands and feet bound. In Iran, he endured months of torture and was coerced into making confessions," Hashemi said.
Chaab "became a victim of a political conspiracy and state terrorism," according to the activist.
"The ultimate goal of this plan, triggered by the attack on the parade, was to undermine the entire political movement in Ahvaz. Its objective was to retaliate against the condemnation of Hamid Nouri and the democratic nature of Sweden."