An Ahwazi human rights activist who was denied asylum in the Netherlands and forced to return to Iran after fleeing Iranian regime persecution was sentenced on Friday to six years imprisonment in an Iranian court for the ‘crime’ of attending protests calling for freedom. According to reports, he was savagely tortured during his detention to force him into signing a false confession.
Diya Sawari’s refugee card in the Netherlands
Twenty-three-year-old Diya Sawari’s “crime” was to participate in peaceful activism and protests for Arab freedom and self-determination in Ahwaz, an Arab region of Iran, which was renamed ‘Khuzestan’ in 1936 ten years after its annexation by the then-Shah. Sawari took part in a number of demonstrations, including one at a football game in Ahwaz in 2015, at which Ahwazi spectators unfurled banners calling for freedom and took off their outer garments to reveal their native Arab dress underneath; as well as being prohibited from participating in any form of activism, Ahwazi Arabs are forbidden from wearing their traditional Arab garb or speaking in their Arabic mother tongue.
He was arrested along with two of his brothers for participation in the protest at the football game shortly after it took place; when he was released on bail, he managed to flee Iran posing as a tourist, first to Turkey then to the Netherlands, travelling along with Ahwazi singer and poet Imad Abayat, who is famed for his rousing epic poetry and songs about Ahwazi freedom.
Whilst in Holland, Diya met with members of the Ahwazi diaspora and befriended a senior official with the Arab Struggle Liberation Movement for Ahwaz (ASMLA), Issa Mehadi Fakher (Issa Sawari). As with all dissident and opposition groups opposing the Iranian regime, the ASMLA has been proscribed by Tehran. During his time in the Netherlands, Diya participated in peaceful protests calling for Ahwazi self-determination and human rights, including a demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy in The Hague where he held Ahwazi national flag and took part in chants calling for freedom and human rights for Ahwazi people. These activities, along with his WhatsApp communications with members of the ASMLA, were monitored by Iranian intelligence services, who used them as ‘evidence’ against him at his trial, accusing him of association with a ‘terrorist’ organization; the fact that the monitoring of his movements and personal communications, more especially in a foreign country, was itself a crime was apparently disregarded.
Diya Sawari was eventually forced to return to Ahwaz in March 2016 after receiving no help from refugee organisations in the Netherlands, with the Iranian regime threatening to confiscate his parents’ home and leave them destitute unless he came back to Iran.
On April 16,2016, he was seized by regime security officers on his return to Iran and imprisoned without charge and with no access to legal counsel for almost a year before his kangaroo trial at ‘Revolutionary Court Branch 2’ in the eponymously named regional capital, Ahwaz.
The judge who heard his case, Sayed Mohammad Baqer Mousavi, is infamous in the region for his hatred of Ahwazi peoples, with the guilty verdict of the kangaroo trial a foregone conclusion. Amongst the charges against Sawari were membership of the ASMLA, “acting against national security”, and “spreading false propaganda” against the Iranian regime.
Such draconian sentences and brutal persecution by the Iranian regime are the norm for Ahwazi activists, with another regime judge, Saeed Kosha, recently sentencing two activists named Jaber Sakhravy and Mehdi Khani-Pour to seventeen-and-a-half years for participating in peaceful protests for freedom.
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi Arab freelance journalist based in the USA