Mohammad Ali Amouri, a 40-year-old minority rights activist from Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority and a founding member of a now-disbanded cultural rights group called Al-Hiwar (meaning “Dialogue” in Arabic), has been on death row since 2012. Rahman Asakereh, another founding member of Al-Hiwar, aged 41, has been serving a 20-year prison sentence since 2011. Both men have been punished for their peaceful activities at Al-Hiwar, which included promoting Arabic culture and identity through poetry events, language classes and reading sessions, voicing demands for newspapers in the Arabic language, and conducting community education to reform traditional practices among Arab clans which are harmful toward women and girls. 

Mohammad Ali Amouri was arrested in January 2011 after he was deported to Iran from Iraq despite being a recognized refugee under UNHCR protection. He had left Iran in 2008 after repeated interrogations and dismissal from his teaching position. 

Rahman Asakereh was arrested together with several other founding members of Al-Hiwar shortly after, in February 2011. At the time of his arrest, he was studying for a Master’s Degree in Social Sciences at the University of Ahvaz and was working on a dissertation about the challenges faced by bilingual students in Iran’s education system. He had set up a private library at his home in Ramshir (Khalafabad) where youth could borrow books about Arab history and culture. 

The arrests of Al-Hiwar members followed years of harassment by intelligence and security officials, who had repeatedly summoned the activists for interrogation and accused them of “espionage”, “collusion with Ba’athist currents” and “espousal of ethnic tension”. 

Following their arrests, Mohammad Ali Amouri and Rahman Asakereh were held for several months in solitary confinement in a secret detention centre in Ahvaz, which was controlled by the Ministry of Intelligence. They have said that, during this period, they were repeatedly tortured, including through sleep and food deprivation, kicking, beatings with electric cables and gas hoses and suspension from the ceiling. The torture was aimed at extracting false “confessions” about the men’s involvement with an armed group intent on overthrowing the Islamic Republic. The exact name and profile of this armed group was never made clear by the authorities. 

In June 2012, Mohammad Ali Amouri and Rahman Asakereh stood trial before Branch Two of the Revolutionary Court in Ahvaz. The court dismissed the men’s allegations of torture without ordering an investigation, and relied on their forced “confessions” to convict them of “enmity against God” (moharebeh). Branch 32 of the Supreme Court upheld the sentence in December 2012. 

In early 2014, Rahman Asakereh was transferred to Mashhad’s Vakil Abad prison in north-eastern Iran, which is very far from his family’s place of residence in southern Khuzestan province. This has inflicted further pain and suffering on Rahman Asakereh and his wife and four children, who cannot afford the cost of travel to see him. 

Full Amnesty report: