Saturday, 27 February 2010

UNPO: Iran: An Unknown Apartheid

Iranian representatives plead for international community to address bigotry towards minorities.
UNPO representatives addressed Permanent Missions in the UN on Friday 12 February to decry the situation of minorities within the Islamic Republic of Iran, just days before Iran comes under examination in their first ever Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council.

The event hosted by Interfaith International and UNPO provided a platform for debate and discussion of rights violations with a particular focus on the Baloch, Ahwazi Arab, Azerbaijani Turk and Kurdish minorities.

In reference to the obstacles placed before religious and ethnic minorities in the workplace and to gain access to university, Mr. Nasser Boladai from West Balochistan denounced life for many citizens in Iran as a form of “apartheid about which the world is unaware”.

Mr. Loghman Ahmedi elaborated on these restrictions reminding the participants of the inherent contradictions in the Iranian constitution. Ahmedi noted that the constitution prevents women and any non-Shia from being elected as President, despite provisions in Article 19 that pledges ‘color, race, language, and the like, do not bestow any privilege’. A significant proportion of Iran’s minority groups are Sunni Muslims, and are therefore entirely excluded from many political processes.
Global media attention has been drawn towards the post-election demonstrations in Iran and around the world, but many Iranian minorities boycotted the elections well in advance of the opening of polling stations in June last year once their candidates were forcibly excluded from running by central authorities.

Mr. Adnan Torfi, representing the Ahwazi Arabs described the situation for minorities as that of second class citizens, whose land and natural resources were plundered without any benefit for local health or education facilities, generating a poverty trap for millions.

The situation of other minorities was also addressed, with Mr. Boladai describing the discrimination and imprisonment of Baha’is in Iran as “absolutely disgraceful”.

The testimonies validated a European Parliament resolution adopted this week that denounced the “systematic harassment” of religious minorities and the ongoing “campaign of arbitrary arrests and executions against Kurdish, Azeri Baluch and Arab civil society and political activists”.
It is hoped that the event will lead to the predicament of minorities being raised during Monday’s Human Rights Council review of Iran. Iranian authorities will be asked to comment on their recent human rights record and will accept or reject formal recommendations made by states. In a mark of the serious nature of the human rights situation in Iran, it is believed that around 90 states have requested to make a formal intervention during the Review, but time will most likely limit participation to 50.

Asharq Alawsat: The Sufferings of Iran's Minorities

By Amir Taheri

Few people outside Iran have heard of Abdul-Malik Rigi.

Inside Iran, however, many see the 32-year old Baluch rebel as a mixture of Scarlet Pimpernel and Al Capone. In a few years, he had managed to become a thorn in the side of the emerging military-security regime in Tehran.

Rigi has been blamed for the deaths of over 100 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, including several senior commanders, and members of other security organizations of the Khomeinist republic, not to mention dozens of civilians as “collateral damage.”

Last Tuesday, however, Rigi’s luck ran out when a Pakistani passenger plane in which he was travelling to an un-named Arab country was forced to land in Iran. Within minutes of the forced landing, Rigi was in the hands of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards.

The incident raises a number of questions.

First, how did the Khomeinist authorities learn about Rigi’s presence in the Pakistani aircraft?

Everyone knows that Rigi travelled with different passports, using different aliases. One must assume that he would have taken some precaution before boarding a passenger plane. In any case, this was not the first time Rigi was flying out of Pakistan. Last summer he flew to Europe for a four-nation tour.
Did the Pakistani authorities inform Tehran of Rigi’s presence in the plane?

No one, outside the two governments, could know for sure. Nevertheless, there is a possibility that Islamabad decided to terminate its hospitality towards Rigi by denouncing him to the Iranians.

This would be in harmony with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s recent attempts at wooing Tehran.

The Pakistani leader’s relations with his principal ally, the United States, have deteriorated in the past few months as the new Obama administration in Washington tried to weaken Zardari’s hold on power by flirting with his opponents.

For a while, Washington, supported by some regional allies, tried to build former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif up as a replacement for Zardari. Washington has now abandoned that policy. But Zardari sees the US a fickle friend.

Then there is the concern that the Obama administration might suddenly drop Afghanistan as it is dropping Iraq.

In that case, Pakistan would need a working relationship with Iran that is likely to emerge as a

major player in Afghanistan.

Yet another reason for the probable change of Islamabad’s attitude may be a quid pro quo: Iran stops supporting rebels in Pakistani Baluchistan in exchange for Rigi’s capture. It is possible that a deal was made last month during an unprecedented visit by Iran’s Interior Minister, General Muhammad Najjar, to Islamabad.

If one does not agree that Islamabad has decided to put relations with Tehran on a different trajectory, one must assume that the Iranians obtained information about Rigi’s movements by bribing Pakistani officials. In that case, Zardari would have to decide whether a security service that could be bought by foreign powers has a place in the democratic system he claims he is building.

The second question that Rigi’s arrest raises is the place that armed struggle should have in the fight against an increasingly unpopular regime.

The issue has generated much debate in the past few weeks.

The regime’s success in containing opposition demonstrations during the first days of this month has prompted supporters of armed struggle to raise their voices.

The People’s Mujahedin, an Islamist-leftist group, has criticised the “Green” opposition movement for its “utopian reliance on peaceful protest.” The Party of Kurdish Life (PJAK), the Iranian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), has expressed similar views. A number of smaller Maoist groups have gone further by calling for urban guerrilla operations.
Iran’s democratic opposition should not listen to such siren songs.

Rigi’s arrest shows the limits of armed action and the ultimate failure of a strategy based on violence. Although the Khomeinist regime is a repressive machine, it has not yet succeeded in closing all avenues for expressing dissent.

In most cases, armed struggle degenerates into terrorism. And that provides the military-security coalition with a pretext for strengthening its hold on power and urging an even harsher crackdown against the opposition. Often, terrorism and military-security oppression form a couple engaged in a deadly dance.

Rigi’s “armed struggle” did more harm than good even to Iran’s Baluch people. His attacks enabled the regime to push aside legitimate Baluch grievances, and portray as “terrorists and foreign agents” all those who demanded a fair deal for an oppressed people.

With or without Rigi, the fact remains that Iranian Baluchis are victims of systemic discrimination.

Life expectancy in the province of Sistan and Baluchistan is a full ten years lower than the Iranian national average. Illiteracy rate in the Baluchi parts of the province is six times higher than the national average while unemployment hovers around an incredible 40 per cent.

The province is granted less than a quarter of one per cent of the public investment, much of it allocated to military projects that generate few jobs for the locals.

More than a third of the Baluch work force manages to earn a living thanks to seasonal jobs in other parts of Iran, especially Khorassan. Many more migrate to other countries of the region or to North America.

Iranian Baluch are also victims of cultural and religious oppression.

The regime spares no effort to wipe out Baluchi, an old member of the Iranic family of languages.

More than 80 per cent of Iran’s estimated two million Baluchi citizens are Sunni Muslims and as such victims of religious discrimination by a regime that bases its claim of legitimacy on an extremist version of duodecimal Shiism.
Over the past 30 years, all but four of the schools teaching Islamic Sunni theology in Iranian Baluchistan have been shut by the regime. Many Baluch clerics, known as Maulawis, have been expelled from the province and at least two dozens have been murdered in mysterious circumstances. The regime has also seized at least half of Baluchi mosques and appointed Shiite mullahs as Friday prayer leaders in some predominantly Sunni villages and towns.

For 30 years, forcing the Baluch to convert to the Khomeinist version of Shiism has been a constant policy of the regime. That campaign has intensified since the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in 2005.

Rigi’s “armed struggle” did nothing to rectify the injustice that the Khomeinist regime is doing to the Baluch people. His capture, however, will not hide that injustice. Nor will it change the atmosphere of violence and insecurity that reigns in a large chunk of southeast Iran.
The opposition movement must address the fact that, under the Khomeinist regime, Iran’s religious and ethnic minorities are subjected to a double injustice and offer credible guidelines for tackling the problem.

Last year, Mehdi Karrubi, one of the key figures of the opposition, briefly flirted with the subject before quickly moving away from it. That is not good enough. Rigi’s capture should provide an opportunity for a more serious debate on the subject.

BBC: Iran 'arrests leader of Sunni militants Jundullah'

Iranian authorities have arrested the leader of the Sunni Muslim militant group Jundullah, according to reports on state television.

The Arabic language channel al-Alam said Abdolmalek Rigi had been held in eastern Iran, but gave no more details.

He is said to be behind a series of deadly bombings and killings in Sistan-Baluchistan province.

Last October 42 people, including six Revolutionary Guard commanders, were killed in a suicide bombing in Zahedan.

The semi-official Fars news agency, quoting the Iranian intelligence ministry, said the arrest took place of the "Jundullah leader along with two of his group members".

The official IRNA news agency later said he had been flying to an Arab country via Pakistan before his arrest.

"His plane was ordered to land and then he was arrested after the plane was searched," Iranian lawmaker Mohammed Dehgan was quoted by news agency AFP as saying.

Press TV, the Iranian state-run English language service, said Mr Rigi had been in a US military base 24 hours before his capture.

It alleged the US had issued Mr Rigi with an Afghan passport.

It also said he had recently travelled to "European countries".
None of these claims could be independently verified.

Jundullah was founded in 2002 to defend the Baluchi minority in the poor, remote and lawless region of south-east Iran.

The group has been using neighbouring Pakistan as a base, and in the past the Iranians have accused Pakistan of allowing them to operate there.

Mr Rigi has claimed in the past that the group does not seek to break away from Iran but that violence is necessary to draw attention to discrimination.

Reuters: Iranian forces kill 4 Kurdish separatists -TV

TEHRAN, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Iranian security forces killed four members of a Kurdish separatist group involved in deadly clashes last year in the northwest of the country, state media said on Sunday.

"Personnel of the Intelligence Ministry ambushed and killed a four-member team, affiliated to the Komouleh terrorist group, responsible for the deaths of three security officers in that province in late December," the report on state television said, citing the ministry in West Azerbaijan province.

Komouleh is a name for the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which took up arms in 1984 for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey.

Iran said the group was behind the death of a Justice Ministry official in Khoy city in West Azerbaijan last month.

Like Iraq and Turkey, Iran has a large Kurdish minority, mainly living in the Islamic Republic's northwest and west.

Iran sees PJAK, which seeks autonomy for Kurdish areas in Iran and shelters in Iraq's northeastern border provinces, as a terrorist group. The United States, Iran's arch foe, in February last year also branded PJAK as a terrorist organisation.

The Islamic republic is locked in a dispute with the United States and its allies over its nuclear energy programme which Washington fears will allow Tehran to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies any such intention.

Iran also faces domestic unrest over the re-election last year of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a vote rejected by opposition supporters who have staged street protests. (Reporting by Hossein Jaseb; writing by Andrew Hammond; editing by Andrew Dobbie)