by Rahim Hamid
Kazem’s widow and orphaned children have no hope of justice or even any form of compensation for this crime…
Iranian regime security forces shot and fatally injured another apparently randomly targeted young Ahwazi man on Sunday, 27 June, while he was delivering foodstuffs to his grocery store. Even more brazenly, they then arrested him for complaining at this shocking attack, ultimately leaving him to bleed to death from his injuries in a police cell. This is the twelfth such killing by regime forces targeting members of the brutalised Ahwazis in Iran since January of this year.
Kazem Hazbawi, a 27-year-old shop owner, was shot at close range and seriously injured for no apparent reason by members of a regime security patrol as he drove through a regime checkpoint in the city of Muhammarah on the way to open his grocery store. When Kazem, a married father of four young children, bleeding heavily from his wounds, got out of his car and confronted the officers responsible, demanding to know the reason for shooting him, he was arrested for daring to challenge the absolute authority of the regime’s thuggish security forces. Rather than taking Kazem, a widely respected and popular local figure, to a hospital for treatment of his injuries, the regime personnel drove the bleeding man to a local detention centre and left him in a cell where he died soon afterwards.
As is usual in these cases, Kazem’s widow and orphaned children have no hope of justice or even any form of compensation for this crime. Instead, Iranian regime police and security forces enjoy absolute impunity, more especially in targeting Ahwazis and other minorities, who are subjected to blatant systemic racism in addition to relentless persecution. As Arabs, Ahwazis are singled out for persecution by the regime, with ‘No Arabs’ signs being common at medical clinics and other facilities in Iran.
In this case, as in the other killings of Ahwazi civilians since the start of the year, Kazem was unarmed and had committed no offence, much less any remotely dangerous action. Any complaints about such killings are met by regime authorities with claims that the individual failed to stop at a checkpoint or other invariably false accusations, presented as justification for the wanton use of deadly force by trigger-happy regime forces. No investigations are launched into these racist murders. On the contrary, any effort to take legal action is overwhelmingly likely to result in the complainants being persecuted, harassed and possibly facing false charges and imprisonment themselves. Similarly, victims’ families are warned that any effort to raise international awareness of these crimes and of the regime’s persecution generally by communicating with human rights organisations overseas will see them arrested and imprisoned; this is no idle threat, but standard regime policy in an effort to silence any calls for justice and conceal the regime’s crimes from the world.
One of the Ahwazi human rights activists working with DUSC has been talking with witnesses, as well as family and friends in an effort to document the events surrounding Kazem’s murder. He told us on condition of anonymity: “Kazem owned a grocery store and every week he’d travel to Abadan to purchase foodstuffs like dairy products, fruits and vegetables but when he was driving back to his home town in Muhammarah he was always stopped by the security soldiers at checkpoints. Several times they forced him to give some of his products to them for no reason. On the last occasion, Kazem was upset and said the security forces were stopping his vehicle and many other cars forcing them to pay a bribe or give some amount of whatever goods they had in their vehicles to let them go. These officers weren’t stopping Kazem and others for speeding or any traffic-related issues, but instead, they’re operating in reality as bandits disguised in security uniforms to extort bribes from poor Ahwazi civilians.”
The activist added, “We are sure they killed Kazem just because he, like many other Ahwazi drivers and motorcyclists who were shot and killed, got fed up with extortion and the theft of his goods and risked not stopping, and they killed him.”
Following Kazem’s death, regime officials added insult to injury by spreading false claims that he was suspected of carrying contraband goods. This excuse is refuted by local people who were at the scene, who said Kazem car was carrying nothing but foodstuffs like yoghurt, fruit and bottled water.
Similar checkpoint shootings are routine, with regime forces shooting 31-year-old Hassan Nasari dead in the town of Jarahi near Ma’shour city on the night of 22 May. Again, he was unarmed and had committed no offence, with regime authorities claiming he had failed to stop at checkpoints.
Similarly, on 6 May, 32-year-old Latif Alboghobeish, also from Ma’shour city, was shot dead while driving home from a funeral; again regime security forces claimed they had shot him after failing to stop at a checkpoint.
Three months ago, on 26 March, two young Ahwazi men from the city of Susa (also known as Shush) in the Ahwaz region were fatally injured after being shot by Basij militia (non-uniformed regime-controlled militia infamous for their violence) affiliated with the regime’s so-called Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). While they were not imprisoned, both died shortly after their arrival at the hospital. Witnesses reported that both men were murdered in cold blood without warning or provocation. The murdered youths were identified as 17-year-old Ebrahim Atshani and 24-year-old Mostafa Hargani. Both were unarmed and had committed no discernible crime; their families reported that they were tortured in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, for which their relatives were arrested themselves and threatened into silence for fear of their own lives.
Even if the regime’s claims that their victims had failed to stop at checkpoints were true, regime forces have never explained why they automatically adopt a shoot-to-kill policy rather than, for instance, forcing their victims to pull over or shooting at their car or motorcycle tires to disable the vehicle, as is the case elsewhere in the world.
Activists who have painstakingly documented these extrajudicial killings note that the regime security forces have never presented any evidence to substantiate their claims that their victims are carrying contraband or had failed to stop when ordered to do so. Furthermore, the activists emphasise that in none of these cases have the victims been armed, been guilty of criminal offences or presented any threat to the regime security forces. In the end, as one activist told DUSC, the regime’s checkpoints are simply devices for extortion and persecution, and those who do refuse to stop are simply registering their anger at this blatant criminality.
Aaron Eitan Meyer, an American attorney and researcher, condemned the latest round of killings. “This is an ongoing flagrant violation of international law, of human rights, and of even the most basic concept of morality. Calling Iran a vicious gangster state feels horribly inadequate. The regime is not incidentally racist, but fundamentally – pointedly – so, and should have long since been relegated to the dustbin of history where other tyrannical oligarchies disappear once they are finally called to account. This goes beyond mere extrajudicial killings, which are themselves flatly proscribed under international law. The regime is free to continue this campaign openly and without any real consequences is a blight on us all.
“Every aspect of this is no less than an affront to the rule of law itself. Every time a young Ahwazi is gunned down in the streets. Every time Ahwazis are kidnapped by regime security, whether in the dead of night or in broad daylight. For every Ahwazi who is tortured in the hellish unmonitored regime prisons, for those whose bodies are hidden so that the horrors of the brutality they have suffered cannot be seen by their loved ones, and for those who manage to survive and flee the medievalist nightmare bearing the scars neither their bodies nor minds can hide, for all of them and more, the rule of law is nothing more than a twisted joke, perverted and weaponised by a cynical and vicious regime. And if that does not enrage us seeing it from the outside, then it should shame us for not acting.”
Decades after the infamous 1988 massacre, international human rights organisations are finally calling for an investigation into it after Ibrahim Raisi parleyed his bloody hands into high office. So longs as young Ahwazis like Kazem are being openly gunned down in the streets, condemnation of massacres past is not going to be nearly enough.
Article first published on Dur Untash Studies Center.
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. He tweets under @Samireza42.