Popular Ahwaz café fire raises questions about role of Iran’s IRIB

Shima Silavi
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A popular cafe in Iran’s Ahwaz region was burnt down on the 3rd of April 2018, coinciding with the 7th night of Ahwazi Arab uprising against Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). As many as 13 young Arab men who were trapped behind locked doors, died and 14 were severely wounded.

Cafe Nawares was located in the southwest of Ahwaz city. It is in an Arab neighborhood called “Dayrah” from which the first Ahwazi Arab uprising of 2005 started. The café was a popular meeting point for young Ahwazi Arab intellectuals and poets.

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The timing of this fire has led to Ahwazi Arab locals and activists suspecting foul play and the connivance of IRIB in misleading the public. According to the Iranian police investigation shared on the day of the incident, firefighters arrived on the scene within four minutes of the incident.

Eyewitnesses says that anti-riot police had already sealed the area and were present there before the fire-fighters’ arrival.

Televised report

In a televised report, aired less than 24 hours following the fire, a young man was shown on television confessing to burning the cafe over a personal feud with the owner. The suspect is a 17-year-old from Lashkarabad, a poverty stricken neighborhood of Ahwaz.

According to reports, he was drunk at the time of the incident because of which the owner of cafe refused him entry into the premises. In order to take revenge, he threw a Molotov cocktail at the café, reports said. His inebriated state is in fact one of the main reasons that makes the locals suspicious about his confession.

The suspect is a 17-year-old from Lashkarabad, a poverty stricken neighborhood of Ahwaz. (Supplied)
The suspect is a 17-year-old from Lashkarabad, a poverty stricken neighborhood of Ahwaz. (Supplied)

A large number of people on social media have compared this fire to “Cinema Rex fire” of 1978 in Abadan in which 420 were burned alive inside the locked movie theatre. A fire that marks one of the important thresholds prior to Islamic revolution.

The pro-Khomeini revolutionaries in the 1970s blamed the fire on secret police, SAVAK. However, there are no records of their involvement in this particular case. Today similar to 3 decades ago Iranian people and activists agree that this was done by pro-Khomeini revolutionaries.

History of forced confessions

According to Centre for Human Rights in Iran, IRIB is violating human rights by obtaining forced televised confessions from detainees. Amnesty International has also condemned this practice by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.

In an interview with Bijan Fathi, member of Association of Iranian Teachers in Diaspora, whose two sons Muhammad and Abduallah were executed in 2011 following accusation of jewelry shop robbery, told Alarabiya:

“My son’s televised confessions were done under torture. They tortured him and just left his face untouched. IRIB confessions are illegal. Based on my own experience with IRIB confessions I do not believe a 17-year-old drunk teenager would commit such an act. The right to have an attorney is another issue. In Iran the court decides who will be your attorney and I do not think this suspect had even that attorney which the court assigns.”

ALSO READ: Arab Ahwaz must be liberated from Iran

Arrest of Arab civil activists, racial discrimination, repeated insult of Arabs in the Iranian media, water diversion projects to central areas, air pollution, demographic change of Arab regions through influx of immigrant workers from other provinces and unpaid wages of workers in sugarcane factories and steel industries are said to be among the main reasons that have started this uprising.

Even as this uprising of the Ahwazi Arabs enters its 9th day, as many as 100 Ahwazi Arabs citizens continue to remain in detention.

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