Unimaginable brutality in Iranian regime’s prisons unveiled by an escaped Ahwazi political prisoner
Ghazi Haidari is drowning in his own blood. The prominent Ahwazi writer, historian and activist from Arab Ahwaz region in the south and south-west of Iran was imprisoned and brutally tortured by the regime there for the ‘crime’ of human rights advocacy. Although he managed to escape the country, reaching Turkey, he’s now undergoing a different kind of torment as the injuries to his internal organs inflicted by the torture leave him in constant agony, coughing up blood from his ruptured lung. Although he was initially given medical treatment for his terrible injuries, his inability to pay his medical costs of over US$11,000 mean the hospital has withdrawn all treatment but a saline drip, leaving him in unimaginable agony and unable to sleep for fear he’ll choke to death on his own blood.
“They’re leaving me to die slowly as I was dying in prison, without any medication,” he told Vocal Europe. “I’m asking all human rights organisations and media to help save my life and transfer me to a safe country to get treatment, I am suffering a lot please feel my pain at night I cannot sleep in fear of suffocation from my lung bleeding. I have to spit up blood all night.”
Forty-two-year-old Haidari, the author of a book entitled ‘Ahwaz through Ahwazi Eyes’, detailing the human rights abuses against Ahwazi Arabs in Iran (which was published under a pseudonym, Ahmed Tamimi, for his own protection) is renowned among Ahwazis for his tireless activism. Although heworked as an engineer since graduating in 2000 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Ahwaz, his passion was andis human rights advocacy.
He worked tirelessly on raising awareness of Ahwazi history, culture and news, coordinating with fellow Ahwazi activists not only in Ahwaz but overseas,including Mostafa Hetteh in Canada and others in the UK, being one of the founders of the Maysan news website, the first of its kind for Ahwazis, detailing Ahwazi culture, history and current events and highlighting the Tehran regime’s racism and subjugation of the Ahwazi people.
During an uprising in 2005 against regime oppression, the Maysan site documented the vicious brutality of the regime’s security forces against protesters and bystanders with hundreds of photos, videos and first person accounts, providing many news agencies with material for reports. One of his colleagues, Kamal Deghlawi, a photographer whose work appeared on the site, was shot in the eye by regime troops while reporting on the uprising.
Another focus of Haidari’s activism was the Elam Studies Center which he established to study the social, economic and historicalaspects of Ahwazi civilization during the earlier Elam period.
His work in supporting equal human rights and documenting Ahwazi culture and civilization made Haidari a target for the leadership in Tehran, with successive Iranian regimes brutally repressing the Ahwazi people and subjecting them to systemic anti-Arab racism, as well as working ceaselessly since the 1925 annexation of the previously autonomous emirate to eradicate all traces of Ahwaz’ Arab identity, culture and history.
Haidari was arrested on May 6 2009 by officers from Iran’s infamous Ministry of Intelligence. For the next 100 days, during which he was kept in solitary confinement, he was subjected to barbaric physical and psychological torture. Among the torture methods he recalls being subjected to by the regime torturersare having his toenails pulled out with pliers, having his hands laid flat while his fingernails were hit full force with a hammer, having a bucket of water suspended by a string hung from his testicles, guards using pliers to tear his skin and lips, and guardspunching him around the head until his ears bled – he still suffers pain in both ears as a result.
After surviving this catalogue of horrors, he was transferred to the notorious Karoon Prison in Ahwaz city on August 8. There he was informed that an Iranian regime ‘Revolutionary Court’ had sentenced him to ten years imprisonment at a trial conducted without his knowledge while he was detained at which he had no representation. Sentence was passed on the basis of ‘confessions’ extracted during the torture which he had been forced to sign. Despite the lack of any trial or even notification of legal proceedings, he had no way to challenge the court’s verdict. The farcical charges against him included ‘disturbing the public’, ‘forging anti-regime propaganda’, ‘posing threat to national security’, ‘acting against national security’, having ‘foreign ties’, ‘espionage’, and ‘sabotage’, as well as ‘inciting insurgency’ among Ahwazis by running the Maysan website. To add insult to injury, the regime’s thugs tortured him into giving them the website’s passwords and security details, and shut it down.
Despite the gross injustice of the sentence on false charges, Ghazi said wrylyto Vocal Europe, “The sentence was a great relief to me and my family because they [the regime] had already threatened me with the death penalty.”
Despite everything, he still continued to stand up for the rights of other political prisoners facing similar horrendous injustice. Talking about his time in the Karoon Prison, he recalls, “I was humbled and honored to meet four innocent Ahwazi political prisoners who’d been sentenced to the death penalty based on false confessions obtained under barbaric torture by the regime agentsand their fabricated “confessions” were shown in two broadcasts by Press TV, a subsidiary of state-owned broadcaster IRIB to portray to the viewers they are criminal people and deserve to be executed. I couldn’t stay silent and say nothing. I objected to the unfair sentence imposed on them by writing a letter of appeal on their behalf protesting against their harsh torture and the confessions and their trial.
Since my sentence was 10 years, I told myself, ‘Right, now let’s focus on the case of these four prisoners and get their voice out, let them be heard outside prison’. I wrote a letter of appeal for them and encouraged them to read it out while I filmed them; we had a phone camera and I filmed them while they were reading it, saying ‘Our sentence is unfair and we confessed under torture and didn’t have any lawyers and we’re calling all human rights organizations to step in and save us from execution.’ ‘We are calling on human rights organisations and especially UN Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed to try to stop our death sentence’. ‘We emphasize in this message that we were peacefully demonstrating against the discrimination policies used by Iranian regime against the Arab people in Ahwaz, but we are accused of waging war against God and the Prophet and corruption on earth’. ‘Our demands were peaceful and demanded the realization of the political, economic, and social rights of our defenceless nation, but we were sentenced to death’. ‘In the dark cells, we subjected to the most severe mental and physical torture while blindfold was on our eyes’. ‘We participated in the anniversary of the glorious April 15th Intifada, which was the uprising of the hungry, the barefooted and the oppressed Arabs.’ ‘We revolted against the Persianization and racial disfranchisement, and while we were holding peaceful gatherings, we were arrested by regime forces’. ‘We were threatened if we do not comply and confess to everything that was dictated to us under torture then we will face with death’. ‘Wewere tortured with the presence of prosecutor named Ahmadi and he threatened us with execution, then Branch 4 of the Revolutionary Court, headed by Morteza Kiaisty, sentenced us to death.’
Ghazi added, then we smuggled that footage out and it reached many media outlets and human rights organisations. That made the regime prison staff mad, and after investigating they found out that I was behind this. So first they executed those four prisoners [three brothers – Abdulrahman Haydarian, Abbas Haydarian, Taha Haydarian – along with a friend of theirs, Ali Sharifi, were executed on charges of ‘waging war against God’], then they transferred me from the prison to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence.
Then they began torturing me again, brutally – they broke four of my ribs while kicking and punching me and beating me with an iron bar as I was quivering uncontrollably from pain repeatedly told them I hadn’t committed any offenses, and one of the fractured ribs punctured one of my lungs and ruptured it. I was bleeding from my mouth, vomiting pure blood in my cell; they never allowed me to see any doctor but they deprived me of food and sleep and never let me see the light of day. My lung bleeding in the cell got worse and since there wasn’t any ventilation system I only smelt dust and it caused it develop into TB [tuberculosis]. On June 10th 2012, after about 70 days of severe psychological and physical torture I was taken by plane to Shiraz City and to the central prison – Adelabad – and after that on August 17th one of the prison guards informed me that another five years imprisonment had been added to my sentence which had been 10 years and now became 15; that was for my teaching inmates about history in Karoon Prison in Ahwaz, and for defending the violated rights of the four prisoners I mentioned, who were hanged on June 18th that year, and thirdly for leaking the video of their final plea to the world to save them.”
On October 19th 2016, Haidari managed to escape Iran. He had been rushed to hospital in a critical condition for urgent medical treatment to his ruptured lung following heavy internal bleeding, with his family paying a massive fine simply for him to be allowed to receive the treatment he desperately needed. Once he was stable, friends managed to sneak him out of the hospital. After remaining in hiding for several weeks, with his friends risking their own lives to help hide him from the regime, he was smuggled into Turkey via the dangerous mountain route. Once there, he immediately sought help for his still largely untreated injuries.
Although he went to Ankara as instructed and visited the headquarters of the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM), explaining his status as an escaped political prisoner and his desperate need for urgent medical treatment, he received no help and was treated the same way as other refugees with no health problems. Although he visited the hospital, nobody took his chronic medical problems caused by the torture seriously until his health once again deteriorated severely as he once again began bringing up blood as a result of his ruptured lung. In recent weeks, this problem has grown far worse, with Haidari vomiting blood and suffering severe breathing problems due to the lung being congested with clots of blood. Fortunately for him, fellow refugees rushed him to the ‘Yolu Hospital’ in Istanbul, where medical staff managed to stabilize his condition. Although he has been hospitalised there for a month, his internal bleeding and coughing up blood has worsened, with the hospital management refusing to carry out any surgical or other treatment or administer medication until he pays for all his medical costs, a total of over $11,000. Unable to pay this, left with only a saline drip, he is racked by pain and unsure of his future.
While Haidari is grateful to be out of the prison where he suffered these horrendous injuries, he’s aware of the irony of his situation. “In an Iranian prison, to be an Ahwazi prisoner means you suffer more than other prisoners,” he says. “If you’re injured under torture, you’ll face two options – you’ll be lucky and overcome the pain or you’ll die slowly without being allowed to leave the prison for treatment. If you destroy your throat by crying screaming and weeping from pain, the regime guards will give you a painkiller and tell you ‘Shut up you dirty worthless Arab dog, we need to sleep. If you scream we’ll fucking rape you as we fuck and kill all of you Arab traitors.’ It was a miracle that I survived till now, but now I’m out of prison as a political prisoner, I’ve got nothing, just negligence.”
Fellow activists and friends of Ghazi have appealed for him to be given the help he desperately needs. His close friend Mostafa Hetteh, an Ahwazi former teacher who now lives in Canada, said, “Every political prisoner is accompanied by misery, horror, misfortune and immense agony that he will live with for the rest of his life. I’ve known Ghazi Haidari as academic historian researcher, writer and human rights defender, before he was a prisoner of the Iranian regime forces, for more than a decade. He carries on his shoulders a great deal of the suffering of the Ahwazi people. His monthly salary was always distributed to many Arab students and poor people while he lived in a very modest home.”
Hetteh continued, “Ghazi was in prison for a long time under heavy guard with other political prisoners who are denied all of their basic rights, including the right to contact or family visits. I met with his mother several times in her home and despite her toughness, strength and patience she was crying from the intensity of her grief and her desperate worry for her son Ghazi. I had one of his brothers whispered in my ear that her mother didn’t know about Ghazi’s health, his psychological and physical torture in prison, and about his critical condition. Mostafa added, I met his mother, this brave and strong woman, several times and she was trying to smile at me, even though I could see the tears falling and rolling down her cheeks. Now Ghazi’s out of prison and his voice needs to be heard, his asylum application needs to be accepted, and he needs to move to a safe country to get urgent medical care and physical therapy so he can recover from his traumatic experiences in prison and the unspeakable torture there.”
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi Arab freelance journalist and human rights advocate who mainly writes about the plight of his people in Iran.