Protesters in Ahvaz in Khuzestan Province and some Ethnic Arab rights' activists claim Iranian security and intelligence bodies are responsible for the death of Hassan Haydari, a popular poet and advocate of ethnic Arab rights who passed away in a hospital in Ahwaz on November 10.
According to some reports that have not been confirmed by Iranian officials, tens of ethnic Arab protesters and activists have been arrested since protesters took to the streets of Ahvaz, particularly the Kut Abdollah district, following the announcement of Haydari's death.
Tensions between ethnic Arabs and the government has flared up from time to time in the oil-rich region. Arabs say that despite most of Iran’s wealth coming from a traditionally Arab-majority province, they are denied their fair share of investments in jobs and infrastructure.
The twenty-nine-year-old Haydari (Heydari) passed away in hospital, presumably after having a brain stroke November 10. Haydari had been detained by intelligence bodies several times in the past few years. He was arrested again in August 2018 for criticizing the Guardianship of the Islamist Jurist, i.e., the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, in one of his poems but was released on bail after a few days. According to some reports he had complained about having health issues after his release from prison.
Heydari who was very popular among the ethnic Arabs of Khuzestan recited his poems in his native Arabic in an epic style and shared videos of his recitations on his social media accounts. According to Hassan Hashemian, a political analyst and expert on ethnic Arabs in Iran, the gatherings in which poets such as Haydari took part to recite their poems are opportunities for the local intellectuals and activists to circumvent the media censorship imposed by the state.
Hashemian told Radio Farda the critical theme of Haydari's poems had made him an influential figure among ethnic Arabs and an icon among the new generation of Arab poets of Khuzestan. "In one of his most famous poems he had harshly criticized clerical preachers," Hashemian points out and adds that this group of clerics serve the system that oppresses ethnic Arabs of Khuzestan.
According to Hashemian the government is trying to silence the voices of poets such as Haydari whose poems reflect the dissatisfaction of the local people. "It is clear to everyone that silencing and eliminating dissidents in the region is on the agenda of Iranian security forces," Hashemian adds.
Yusef Banitaraf Azizi, an Iranian Arab journalist, told Radio Farda the issue of land ownership was a prominent theme in Haydari's poems. According to him the Arab speaking people of the region are of the belief that vast areas of their lands were misappropriated with the support of the government forcing many of them to live in slums.
Pointing out that the message read at Haydari's funeral expressed gratitude to all other Iranian ethnic groups, Banitaraf says Haydari's poems did not encourage Arab separatism. According to him the reason for protesting against Islamic Republic officials is the government's discrimination against Arab speakers, their oppression, and the murder of the young Ahvazi poet.
According to Banitaraf there are similarities between the circumstances of Haydari's death and the deaths of several other ethnic Arab cultural figures in the past few years including Taher Salami, Abbas Jaaveleh and Nazem Hashemi who were killed in a road accident in 2018, Ayyub Khanafereh who died in another road accident in 2016, and Sattar Sayyahi in 2012 who was presumably killed by poisoning.
Banitaraf uses the term "serial murders' to refer to these incidents, a term reminding the notorious disappearance and murder of several dissidents and cultural figures between 1988 and 1999 by Iranian security forces.
In a video that has widely been circulated on social media, speaking in his native Arabic Haydari's father says he does not have any suspicions about his son's death. According to him his son had shown no prior signs of illness and had a stroke while having dinner. However, another video also circulated on social media shows Haydari's brother saying that his father had to make that statement under pressure from security and intelligence bodies.
Hashemian who now lives abroad says in the current circumstances his personal experience of the pressure on the families of dissidents does not allow him to rely on the statements made by Heydari's family members. Banitaraf supports this view too and says in similar incidents under direct pressure from security and intelligence bodies families of victims have sometimes been forced to cooperate with the authorities and agree to close the cases before being properly investigated.