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Exiled Activist: Iran Imprisons Arab Teacher Who Blamed Authorities for Poverty

An undated photo of Iranian activist Adel Asakereh, a teacher in southwestern Iran's Khuzestan province, who was arrested in May 2019 for criticizing the government on social media. The image has been widely shared on social media.

An exiled Iranian Arab rights activist says a minority Arab teacher in southern Iran has been sentenced to nine years in prison for using social media to blame Iranian authorities for the poor living conditions of local villagers.

In a Tuesday phone interview with VOA Persian, London-based researcher Karim Dahimi said an Iranian court in the southwestern province of Khuzestan sentenced rural schoolteacher Adel Asakereh last week.

Asakereh, a history graduate, had been working at a school in the town of Shadegan when security forces arrested him in May 2019. They kept him in solitary confinement for several months as they interrogated him about his social media posts before releasing him on bail, Dahimi said.

Reputation for credibility

Dahimi has a reputation as a credible source on the human rights situation of his ethnic Ahwazi Arab minority group that lives mainly in Khuzestan. His research is cited by international human rights organizations such as the Washington-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Center and the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group.

Dahimi told VOA that Asakereh had posted online criticism of Iranian authorities for allowing a sugarcane producer to requisition agricultural lands of Shadegan villagers and for prioritizing local Islamic seminaries in government spending. He said Asakereh had complained that such policies were further impoverishing the villagers.

For expressing such sentiments on social media, Dahimi said, the court convicted Asakereh of creating public anxiety, threatening national security, and insulting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other officials.

The first online report of the sentencing of the Iranian Arab teacher came Saturday in a Twitter post by the KhakZadegan channel, which shares news of what it calls the suffering of Iranian Arabs. The post included a video clip of what appeared to be Asakereh playing with his students.

There was no mention in Iranian state media of recent legal actions against Asakereh. It was not clear whether he faces imminent imprisonment or can remain free while appealing the verdict reported by Dahimi.

VOA Persian contacted Iran’s U.N. mission in New York by email and phone on Thursday seeking comment on Asakereh’s case but received no response.

Minorities targeted

The U.S. State Department’s latest annual report on human rights in Iran, released in March, said the predominantly Persian and Islamist-ruled nation’s estimated 2 million Ahwazis were among several minority groups “disproportionately targeted” by authorities for “arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, disappearances and physical abuse.”

The report also said a widespread complaint among Ahwazis was that the Iranian government diverted and mismanaged natural resources, primarily water, often for the benefit of contractors affiliated with Iran’s most powerful military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

This article originated in VOA’s Persian service. Click here for the original Persian version of the story.