The Iranian authorities have waged a sweeping crackdown against the Ahvazi Arab ethnic minority in recent weeks, arresting hundreds of people in Khuzestan province, Amnesty International (AI) said, on Friday, November 2.
Amnesty International has described the scale of arrests in recent weeks as "deeply alarming".
According to AI, foreign based Iranian human rights activists believe that up to 600 have been arrested in Khuzestan, but AI can confirm 178 of them, so far.
The wave of recent detentions follows a deadly armed attack on a military parade in the city of Ahvaz, the capital of oil rich Khuzestan province, southwest Iran.
The attack, Saturday, September 22, left at least 24 people dead, including spectators and more than sixty injured.
Although a day layer, the so-called Islamic State (IS) took responsibility for the attack, an Arab-Iranian separatist group had already claimed responsibility.
On behalf of The Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Al-Ahwaz, Yacoub Hor Al-Tustari said his group was behind the attack in interviews with foreign-based Persian-language media, including Radio Farda, immediately after the attack.
But it remained unclear who was exactly responsible, as claims and denials followed.
Several Iranian officials vowed a strong response to those responsible and claimed foreign countries were behind the terror plot.
AI notes that the Islamic Republic has used the deadly attack on the military parade as an excuse to go after Arab ethnic rights activists across Khuzestan.
"The Iranian authorities are using the attack in Ahvaz as an excuse to lash out against members of the Ahvazi 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.
“All those suspected of criminal responsibility for the horrific attack in Ahvaz must be brought to justice", Luther asserted.
Those arrested include political and minority rights activists, AI said, adding, "The arrests have taken place in towns, cities and villages across Khuzestan province including Ahvaz, Hamidiyeh, Khorramshahr and Shush. The mass arrests have created a climate of fear among the Ahvazi Arab community, which already faces persecution and discrimination in Iran."
Responding to the Governor of Khuzestan province, Gholamreza Shariati's recent comments that there are no civil society activists, women and children among those detained, Amnesty International says it has received credible information that students, writers, civil society, minority rights and political activists have been arrested at their homes, places of work or in the streets.
"Among those detained is Sahba(Lamya) Hammadi, a civil society activist who is pregnant. She was arrested on 6 October at her home in the city of Susangerd in Khuzestan province. She contacted her family the day she was arrested but her family have not heard from her since", AI reported.
Moreover, according to AI "Zoudieh Afrawi and Gheysieh Afrawi, two women from Susangerd, were arrested separately in their homes on October 22. Their children had been arrested earlier in the day. They both telephoned relatives a week after their arrests and told them they were being held by the Ministry of Intelligence. Their relatives have not heard from them since."
In its latest statement, Amnesty International has called on the Iranian authorities to release immediately and unconditionally anyone being held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly or solely on account of their ethnic identity.
Amnesty International's statement is published at a time when on October 30, Finn Borch Andersen, head of Denmark's intelligence service Politiets Efterretningstjeneste (PET), said the agency believed the Islamic Republic "was planning an attack in Denmark" against three Iranian minority Arab activists.
The trio, who live in the city of Ringsted, south-west of Copenhagen, are reportedly part of the separatist Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of al-Ahwaz (ASMLA).
Tehran has categorically denied the allegation, dismissing it as "cooked up" by Israel.
However, the Islamic Republic has a long record of assassinating Iranian dissidents in exile, including the last Prime Minister of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Shapour Bakhtiar and his close associates, AbdolRahman Boroumand and Soroush Katibeh, as well as the younger son of the late Shah's twin sister, Shahriar Shafiq, all in Paris, as well as the popular crooner and political activist, Fereydoun Farrokhzad in Bonne, Germany.