Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Ali Sa'idavi


Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam
Civil Status: Unknown


Date of Killing: April, 2005
Location of Killing: Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Unspecified arbitrary execution method
Charges: Unknown charge

About this Case

Information about Mr. Ali Sa'idavi was taken from lists of individuals killed during protests in Khuzestan, between April 15th and 24th, 2005. The lists were reported by the Ahvaz News Agency and the European Ahwazi Human Rights Organization; they include the names and details of 51 Arab citizens of Khuzestan (in the first list) and 64 (in the second) who were killed by security and police forces during popular protests in Arab-populated towns.

Additional information about these protests has been gathered from interviews conducted by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, with several eyewitnesses and from a report by Milan Kothari, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, as well as reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Ahvaz Human Rights Organization, Ahvaz News Agency, Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), and news websites including the BBC and Gooya News.*

The Officials’ Reaction

Iranian state and judiciary authorities did not provide clear information regarding the number or names of the individuals killed during the Khuzestan protests.  Some of the state officials acknowledged in a general statement that some citizens had been killed but did not provide further information.  Ali Shamkhani, the Minister of Defense at the time, who was present in Khuzestan as the representative of the state, announced the number of individuals killed to be three or four (ISNA, April 19, 2005).  On April 20, 2005, 180 members of the seventh parliament wrote a letter to Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s president at the time, to demand restitution for the harms brought upon the people of Ahvaz and the release of innocent detainees who, according to the parliamentarians, were mostly teenage students and young people.

In an April 25, 2005 letter to Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s president at the time, Jasem Shadidzadeh, Secretary General of the Wefaq Party and Representative of Ahvaz in the sixth parliament, demanded that “the bodies of the victims be delivered to their families as soon as possible for proper funeral and customary mourning ceremonies.”  According to reports by local activists and human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, security officials gave the news of the death of some of the protest detainees to the families.

Some of the eyewitnesses of the protests explicitly remarked, in their interviews with the Boroumand Foundation, that the security forces actively prevented the delivery of the victims’ bodies to their families, for quite some time, and had, in some cases, summoned and threatened the families.  According to a Human Rights Watch report, in some cases the officials had demanded that the families pay a 50 million riyal fine (later reduced to 15 million riyals) for damage sustained by government buildings during the protests, before they could receive the victims’ bodies -- although it is reported that, even after the payment of the fine by the families, state officials only allowed the delivery of two bodies per week (Human Rights Watch, May 10, 2005).

The Family’s Remarks

No information regarding remarks or reactions by Mr. Sa'idavi’s family is available.

A Brief Description of Arab Protests in Khuzestan

On Friday, April 15, 2005, protests ensued, initially, in the Kui-e Alavi (Shelangabad) neighborhood of Ahvaz and continued widely for several days to other parts of Ahvaz, Mahshahr, and Hamidiyeh, in response to the publication of a July 24, 1998, letter, attributed to Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the head of the President’s Office at the time, calling for a demographic restructuring of the Arab population in Khuzestan, encouraging the immigration of non-Arab people to the region, and reducing the Arab population of Khuzestan to one-third of the total population of the province.  Even though, on Saturday, April 16th, the spokesperson for  the Iranian government officially denied the authenticity of the letter, the protests that had ensued, following the invitation of the “Committee for Organizing Popular Protests in Ahvaz,”** (a committee consisting of some political groups, cultural institutions, civil institutions, and some Khuzestan Arab political and civil activists) continued widely. In the call for protests, the following factors were mentioned:  policies by the central government to confiscate the lands belonging to Arab farmers, through various projects such as the Sugarcane Project; increasing marginalization as well as profound dissatisfaction among Khuzestan Arabs due to government efforts to eradicate the Arab identity; and uprooting the Arabs of Khuzestan.

Historical Background

Iranian Arabs, some 2 to 3 million individuals, comprising approximately*** 3% of the country’s population, reside in Khuzestan, Bushehr, Hormozgan, Fars, and Khorasan provinces. The largest number of Arabs reside in the Southern and Western regions of Khuzestan. Although Khuzestan is a very rich province due to oil reserves and fertile farmlands, most of its inhabitants suffer from poverty and deprivation.  The Arab population in Khuzestan is often marginalized and deprived of the resources in the province. They attribute their dissatisfaction with the central government to the deprivation and discrimination that they suffer.

The history of the protests against government policies in Khuzestan dates back to the 1980s and 90s, with the protests concerning the situation of drinking water in Abadan and Khorramshahr in the year 2000; the protests of the people of Ahvaz, provoked by offensive material about Khuzestan Arabs and published in Ettela’at Newspaper in 1985; and protests against the handling of cultural products by security forces in 2002, resulting in a number of deaths and injuries. Local sources have referred to the following as factors contributing to widespread dissatisfaction among the Arab population in Khuzestan: large-scale settlement of non-natives on lands belonging to Arab natives, under the guise of sugarcane development plans, handing over native lands to individuals affiliated with military organizations, environmental problems created as a result of the sugarcane development project, forced migration and settlement of non-natives in newly-established towns, as well as ethnic and cultural discriminations imposed by the government on the Arab population of the region. In the opinion of Arab activists, projects such as the Amir Kabir project, the Dehkhoda project, the Danial project, and the Ramin settlement are among the development projects implemented in the region to boost government policies.  Local activists, journalists, and members of the parliament have repeatedly objected to government policies regarding the eradication of the Arab identity and changing the demographic texture of the region through these development projects.  In a letter to the Iranian president at the time, Jasem Shadidzadeh, Representative of Ahvaz in the sixth parliament and Secretary General of the Wefaq Party, objected to the “buying at a very low price, and at times the simply taking of lands belonging to the region’s Arabs,” referring to the following examples:  “more than 120,000 hectares for the sugarcane development project;” “more than 47,000 hectares for the Isargaran agriculture project in the Jafir region;” “more than 25,000 hectares for the Iranian Fisheries Organization;” and “more than 6,000 hectares for the settlement of the pious residents of the Northern and Northeastern regions of the Khuzestan province in the border strip on the North of the town of Shush;” also referring to correspondence documents, including a request placed by a high-ranking member of one of the government institutions to the Minister of Agriculture, at the time, to provide housing for more than 50,000 non-natives in the Shirin-Shahr [Sweet City] settlement for the sugarcane development project.

In an official report following his visit to various regions of Khuzestan in the summer of 2005, Milan Kothari, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, mentioned the confiscation of lands belonging to Khuzestan Arabs for a negligible price and the forced relocation of native people, due to development projects such as the Dehkhoda sugarcane project.  In his press conference in Tehran, Mr. Kothari referred to the forcing of 250,000 to 300,000 Arab residents out of their ancestral lands on the riverbanks of Karun and expressed worry about the building of new settlements and transferring citizens from other provinces to these settlements. He mentioned the establishment of the Shirin-Shahr settlement, for citizens transferred from the province of Yazd, as an example and asked, “If these people are brought to this region for work, why hasn’t the government tried employing the heaps of unemployed people from the region itself to work on these projects?” (IRIN, August 9, 2005)

The Protests

Demonstrations started on Friday, April 15, 2005, from Kui-e Alavi (Shelangabad/Daereh), a poor neighborhood in Ahvaz, and quickly spread to other neighborhoods in Ahvaz and the cities of Mahshahr and Hamidiyeh.  The April 15 statement of the Ahvaz Human Rights Organization used the coverage by the Ahvaz News Agency and eyewitness accounts to report the beginning of the protests as follows:  “About 3,000 Arab residents of Ahvaz gathered in Kordavani street and circle, along with 1000s more in Shelangabad, Malashiyeh, Ameri, Kut Abdollah, and other parts of the city, for widespread but peaceful demonstrations.  Security forces first attacked the demonstrators with tear gas and subsequently opened fire on demonstrators in the Daereh region and then the Malashiyeh region.”  Police and security forces took extreme measures in suppressing the demonstrators, resulting in several deaths and injuries.  The killing of protesters by security forces intensified the protests, to the extent that the protesters started to block roads and occupy government offices and police headquarters in several cities.  As the protests spread to other Arab-populated cities in the next days, security forces, Revolutionary Guards, and plainclothes Basij members, along with forces transferred to the region from Tehran and Khorramabad, continued to suppress the protesters with increasing violence and intensity, resulting in tens of deaths and injuries and hundreds of arrests.  These protests continued for 10 days in many Arab-populated regions of Khuzestan.  The demonstrators demanded a government apology to the region’s Arabs.

Iranian officials, including the Minister of Intelligence and the Minister of Interior Affairs, have attributed the main source of the protests to anti-revolutionary groups abroad, websites, and television channels that try to provoke ethnic unrest in order to topple the regime.  The Secretary General of the High Council for National Security has also referred to foreign elements contributing to these events and announced the Al Jazeera network as one of the provokers of the unrest (Gooya News, April 21, 2005).  Concurrently, the official news agency of ILNA reported on April 18 that the activities of the Al Jazeera television network in Iran were suspended due to “violation of professional ethics” with its Tehran office subsequently closing.  Al Jazeera had been one of the most watched satellite television channels among Arabs in Khuzestan.  According to the BBC website, Arab civil activists believed that regardless of the official position on the authenticity of the letter attributed to Abtahi, the sum of efforts by government and state institutions during the post-war years in Khuzestan has been aligned with policies aiming to change the texture of the Arab population in the region as stated in the aforementioned letter.

Government sources announced the number of individuals killed to be three or four, quoting the Islamic Republic’s Minister of Defense (ISNA, 19.04.2005).  This is while this number was announced by local civil activists to be 50-60, by Amnesty International to be 29, and by Human Rights Watch to be 50.  The Ahvaz Human Rights Organization also published the names of 51 individuals killed during the protests.  Hundreds more were injured.  The Public and Revolutionary Prosecution Office of Ahvaz declared the number of detainees for whom files had been created to be 447 (IRNA, 25.04.2005), but local sources announced the number of detainees to be more than 1200.  Some intellectuals and ethnic leaders were also among the detainees.  According to reports by local activists and human rights institutions, such as Amnesty International, the families received news of the deaths of some of the detainees from security forces.  Based on the Human Rights Watch report, in some cases the authorities had asked the families of the victims for 50 million riyals (later reduced to 15 million riyals) as compensation for harms sustained by government buildings during the protests before returning the bodies of the victims -- although it is reported that, even after the payment of the fine by the families, state officials only allowed the delivery of two bodies per week.  (Human Rights Watch, May 10, 2005)

While the protests calmed down after 10 days, a series of subsequent events followed, such as widespread arrests, various bombings, chain executions, and repeated popular protests on different occasions, including the anniversary of the original protests.


*Sources: Interviews conducted by the Boroumand Foundation with several Arab civil activists, political prisoners in Ahvaz, and eyewitnesses of the protests, The report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing (E/CN.4/2006/41/Add.2, 21 March 2006) and his press conference in Tehran (IRIN, 9 August 2005, Tehran), Statements by Amnesty International (May 17, 2006; April 20, 2005), Human Rights Watch ( May 10, 2005; February 15, 2007), Ahvaz Human Rights Organization, European Ahwazi Human Rights organization, Arab National Democratic Movement of Ahvaz, Ahvaz News Agency (April 25, 2005), IRNA (April 16 and 23, 2005), ISNA (April 19, 2005; May 3, 2005), BBC ( April 16 and 25, 2005), Gooya News (April 21, 2005), brwska news, Iran and Jomhuri-e Eslami newspapers.

** The “Committee for Organizing Popular Protests in Ahvaz” was a committee consisting of different political groups, including the “Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement In Ahwaz” and the “Wefaq Party,” and civil and cultural institutions such as the “Amjad Institute” and “Al-Shorouq,” as well as Arab civil activists.  The first critical statement by the “Arab National Democratic Movement of Ahvaz” was issued on April 9, 2005.

*** There are no precise and official statistics regarding the Arab population of Iran.  The Islamic Republic purposefully refrains from publishing statistics regarding ethnic and religious diversity in Iran.  The Arab population is estimated by the United States Library of Congress to comprise 2%, and by the New America Foundation to comprise 2.7% of the total population of Iran.  Local Arab activists believe the number to be much higher, comprising 5-7% of the country’s total population.  There are no precise and official statistics regarding the Arab population in Khuzestan and its percentage compared to the total population of the province, either.  Khuzestan Arabs are mostly Shi’a, but there are some Sunni groups as well.

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