Ali Chebeishat and Yasin Mousawi were forced to "confess" on Press TV before their trials
Theexecutions of Ahwazi Arab cultural activists Ali Chebeishat and Yasin (also known as Khaled) Mousawi in the past few days will add to the gruesome body count of executions in Iran, which are occurring at a rate of at least two a day under the "moderate" President Hassan Rouhani.
The hangings were carried out in secret and in defiance of appeals by UN Special Rapporteurs. Both faced trial by media. UN human rights experts stated: "The accused were convicted either primarily or solely on the basis of a televised 'confession' which appeared on Iranian State TV in June 2013." The men were put on trial and sentenced in September 2013.
The "confessions" were later broadcast on Press TV in order to gain international support for the Iranian regime's slaughter of Ahwazi Arab cultural activists. The men were compelled to admit responsibility for the sabotage of gas pipelines by Ahwazi Arab rebels.
Far from being hardened terrorists, according to accounts by those who know them the Arab men have humble backgrounds. They sought to give Ahwazi Arab children educational opportunities that are often denied to members of the community. As members of the Al-Shabab (Youth) Cultural Institute of Shush, they were active in building schools in 11 villages in the Ahwaz region through donations with a focus on educating girls and celebrating Eid and Arabic folklore and culture. The organisation was constantly threatened by the security services from the time it was established in 2004.
Press TV were allowed access to Chebeishat's trial at Ahwaz Revolutionary Court, but he was denied a defence lawyer
Former members of the cultural organisation, who have fled Iran, tell me that Ali Chebeishat never went to school but had learned how to read and write in Arabic, while Yasin Mousawi only completed primary school. Living in a close-knit rural community where there are no secrets and little privacy, they deliberately avoided political activity. However, this did not stop the Iranian authorities taking interest in Arab cultural activities, which are regarded with distrust by a regime that fears ethnic uprisings in one of the world's most oil-rich regions.
Family members would never have agreed to a public broadcast they say humiliated them and their children
The two family men were among nine members of the group who were were arrested in November 2012. Chebeishat was beaten and tortured in front of his sons while they were in the custody of the intelligence services.
In the Press TV broadcast, the men were forced to confess in front of their families, who in the face of massive intimidation were also made to testify that the men were involved in separatist groups. Relatives told me that the family were deceived into believing the film was being made as an appeal to Supreme Leader in order to secure a pardon. They feel they have been humiliated in front of the country and the world and made to share the guilt for crimes the men never committed, leading to social ostracisation within their small community. If they had known the film would be made public, they say that they would never have agreed to participating in the documentary, which showed young children watching their household heads confess to crimes they did not commit.
Ali Chebeishat's loved ones in mourning yesterday after receiving news of his death. Source: Deceased's family
Press TV: A Tool of Torture and Humiliation
The cases of Chebeishat and Mousawi mirror those of five other men who were all members of the Al-Hewar Cultural Institute, two of whom were executed earlier this year: Hashem Shabani and Hadi Rashedi. According to Justice for Iran, Al-Hewar gave tuition to children and promoted cultural activities in the Khalafabad area. Press TV featured their forced confessions in a broadcast in December 2011. They were made to admit they were involved in separatist bomb attacks and, following brain-washing by "dark forces", supported Ba'athism in Iraq. The cultural activists, who were all university educated, were also made to confess assistance from Hosni Mubarak and Muammer al-Qadafi, the former rulers of Egypt and Libya.
In a letter smuggled out of prison, Shabani wrote that he had written blogs and essays critical of the treatment of minorities in Iran, including "hideous crimes against Ahwazis perpetrated by the Iranian authorities, particularly arbitrary and unjust executions. Through this reporting, I was defending the legitimate right that every nation in this world should have which is the right to live freely with full civil rights. With all these miseries and tragedies, I have never used a weapon to fight these atrocious crimes except the pen."
The Iranian regime's execution campaign demonstrates that any form of Arab civic organisation in Iran is portrayed as terrorism, enabling it to impose the death penalty. Ahwazi Arab activists maintain this is part of the regime's campaign of ethnic cleansing against indigenous ethnic Arabs.
In spite of the ban on broadcasting in the UK over similar controversies, Press TV still operates from plush West London offices - albeit using a front company - where British MP George Galloway is filmed in his weekly talk show. British guests are either unaware of the torture confessions that routinely appear on the English language channel or have few moral scruples.
Human rights activists fear that in spite of its complicity in human rights abuse, Press TV may soon be back on the airwaves, broadcasting more forced confessions and propaganda at a time when President Rouhani is presiding over a bloodbath of political prisoners.