Fifteen people have been killed in Ahwaz, a city in Iran's Khuzestan province, sources close to Al Arabiya said on Monday.
One source said that Iranian security forces backed by militias dressed in civilian clothes broke up demonstrations by force.
The media office for the group “Youth of April 15” said in its pages on the social-media networks Facebook and Twitter that 15 people from Ahwaz have been killed and dozens have been wounded since demonstrations began last Friday. Friday had been declared as a “Day of Rage” to demand rights for the ethnic Arab majority in Iran’s Khuzestan province.
“The humanitarian situation is very bad,” and there were reports of a lack of the food and water, the group said.
There were also reports that foreigners had been banned from traveling to Ahwaz, which is currently under a blockade imposed by Tehran, Al Arabiya sources said.
Iranian Minorities’ Human Rights Organization (IMHRO) had said in a statement obtained by Al Arabiya on Saturday that the government deployed agents in public squares and in the streets. Basij militia forces and revolutionary guards were positioned in various parts of Ahwaz city, IMHRO added.
The demonstrations, which were organized via Facebook and Twitter spread to the cities of Hamidieh, Mahshahr, Shdegan, Abadan, and Khoramshahr, according to the organization.
Ahwazi Center for Human Rights Defense has called on the international community to intervene and put an end to what it termed “massacres in Ahwaz.” The group demanded in a statement that the Iranian government ensures the “safe” treatment in hospitals of the wounded protesters.
Currently there are no reliable figures on the percentage of Arabs and Persians in the Khuzestan province, but it is widely known that Arabs constitute the majority. Iran’s total population is 78 million.
While some ethnic Arab groups have called for a “revolution” to demand the independence of the region, several moderate opposition groups have called for rights they said are shared with other ethnic groups, such as the Balooch, the Kurds and the Turks.
Ahwaz contains large quantities of the world’s proven oil reserves and also of liquid natural gas reserves. According to the publication Oil & Gas Journal, proven crude oil reserves were 1.3 trillion barrels as of January 2009.
Proven reserves of natural gas were 6.3 trillion cubic feet. Proven reserves are estimated quantities that analysis of geologic and engineering data demonstrates with reasonable certainty can be recovered under existing economic and operating condition.
Ahwazi Arabs are banned from using media or from participating in political or cultural activities. The Iranian government, according to rights groups, heavily suppresses them.
(Ammar Benaziz of Al Arabiya can be reached via email at: email@example.com; and Abeer Tayel, also of Al Arabiya can be reached through email at: firstname.lastname@example.org)