Iran: Nazem Barihi's ordeal highlights the oppression of the Ahvazi Arab community

Aktion für Menschenrechte and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) express their deep concern about the situation of Nazem Barihi, a 38-year-old Ahvazi Arab, who was arrested by Iran's security intelligence forces on 8 October 2005, spending 19 years in prison since then.

Accused, along with other members of the Ahvazi community, of plotting a terrorist attack, Barihi was convicted of actions against national security and corruption. The Ahvaz Revolutionary Court initially sentenced him to death but later commuted his term to life imprisonment. Barihi never received a fair trial. His lawyer claims that the government presented no evidence and that his confession was extracted under torture. His appeal has remained unanswered for four years.

Nazem Barihi is held in Sepidar Prison, known for its harsh conditions. Located in Ahvaz, where temperatures range from 30 to 45 degrees Celsius, the prion lacks basic amenities such as clean drinking water, air conditioning, and health care. The detainees endure poor-quality food, overpopulation, and unsanitary conditions, with frequent sewage overflow and rat infestations in the dormitories. Barihi suffers from serious abdominal and cardiac issues for which he receives no medical treatment.

Nazem Barihi’s case highlights the broader plight of the Ahvazi Arab community in Khuzestan, who face systemic persecution and socioeconomic deprivation, although the region provides a large proportion of Iran's oil, gas and water resources. Living in impoverished urban outskirts, Ahvazi Arabs encounter discrimination in employment, housing, political representation, and cultural and linguistic rights. The prohibition against using their mother tongue exacerbates their grievances. Since the 1980s, Iran has enforced discriminatory ethnic and religious policies, excluding Ahvazi Arabs from governmental participation and resource access. Moreover, the UN Human Rights Committee, which reviewed Iran’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights last November, raised serious concerns about the disproportionate application of the death penalty to members of the Ahvazi Arab community.

We ask the Iranian authorities to immediately:

  • Provide a retrial to Nazem Barihi by fair trial guarantees as enshrined in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • Promote and protect the rights of ethnic, religious, and linguist minorities, including the persons from the Ahvazi Arab community, by considering their specific rights and adopting effective measures to prevent and combat discrimination, harassment and ill-treatment.
  • Immediately improve detention conditions in Sepidar Prison to align with international standards.
  • Implement the Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee, in particular those related to the death penalty, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and the rights of minorities.