In this podcast, Desmond Fernandes and Faiz Baluch critically analyse the Iranian state’s target killings of Baloch ‘sookhtbar’ and Kurdish ‘kolbar’ (also referred to as ‘kolber’ or ‘kolbaran’) border traders and the execution of Baloch and Kurdish political prisoners.
It is evident, as Fernandes and Baluch note, that parallels can be – and have been – drawn between the way in which Baloch ‘sookhtbar’ and Kurdish ‘kolbars’ and Baloch and Kurdish political prisoners have been targeted in Iran, often in a lethal manner.
Desmond Fernandes is a former Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at De Montfort University in the UK, who specialises in genocide studies and human rights concerns and the manner in which ‘Othered’ communities are ‘criminalised’ by state linked mechanisms and bodies. He has authored and co-authored a number of books, reports and articles focusing on the human rights situation facing the Baloch and Kurds.
Faiz Baluch is the editor of ‘Balochwarna News – The other side of the story’, an online news portal that has been reporting about human rights concerns in Balochistan since 2005. Balochwarna News states that its aim is “to engage and inform human rights groups around the world and the international community in its widest sense about what the Baloch people are going through at the hands of Iranian and Pakistani security forces. The stories of Balochistan are not often published in the international press as Pakistan and Iran have made it difficult for the press to report about the ‘Balochistan issue’: foreign journalists are not granted the necessary press permission to report from Balochistan.
“If they get in, they are harassed and intimidated and often kicked out. Local journalists are either abducted or target killed, mostly by government mercenaries for reporting human rights abuses against the Baloch people. Because of the media blackout, they are getting away with the most horrible human rights abuses against the Baloch people. We, at Balochwarna News, aim to ‘tell the other side of the story’ to the world that has long been ignored and needs the immediate attention of the international community, media and human rights organisations”.
The podcast examines the political context in which the killing and injuring of more than 20 Baloch ‘sookhtbar’ by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) took place on 22 February. Some sources, Faiz Baluch notes, now state that the death toll has reached as high as 37 people.
Reportedly, the IRGC opened fire on a peaceful and unarmed demonstration by Baloch fuel traders who had gathered to demand the opening of the Goldsmid Line that divides Western Balochistan in Iran from Eastern Baluchistan in Pakistan, to enable them to trade safely. Ten people were reported to have died instantly and several more Baloch later died in hospital from their injuries. Faiz Baluch provides further details about the targeted killing incidents that have largely been ignored by the international press.
Just over two weeks ago, Balochwarna News once again reported that: “After closing the borders of Balochistan and stranding [people at] the border crossings, the Revolutionary Guards” have continued to “easily transport drugs. The IRGC’s ‘Razzaq plan’, which was implemented to ‘regulate’ the Baluch fuel couriers has been forgotten in less than two months and the border of Balochistan has been completely”, once again, “shut to the Baloch people”, further antagonising, marginalising and provoking them.
“However, the IRGC and its forces are now using the Balochistan border [for] their narcotic transportation business. It is pertinent to remember”, Balochwarna News adds, “that in February 2021, the IRGC had shot dead and wounded at least 37 Baloch fuel traders who had gathered to protest against the border closure. On the other hand, the Pakistani forces have also closed down the Balochistan border at the Goldsmid Line that divides Iranian Occupied Balochistan from Pakistan Occupied Balochistan.
“The closure of the Goldsmid Line (an artificial border) is a joint plan of Iranian and Pakistan forces to take over the fuel trading” and also facilitate the “transportation of narcotics. Hence, the border forces of Iran and Pakistan have closed down the border for the general public in the name of ‘security measures’, so they can continue with their drug trafficking”. This is even as they are fully aware of the catastrophic economic consequences such border closures have on Kurdish and Baloch communities that are so reliant on the employment of the border traders.
The way in which the death penalty, detentions and ‘enforced disappearances’ in Iran have often been – and still are – used against members of Iran’s Baloch and Kurdish communities – who have been institutionally discriminated for decades – is also addressed in this podcast.
The podcast discusses the way in which, just three months ago, 36 civil society and human rights organisations, including the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), Amnesty International, Article 19, the Balochistan Human Rights Group, the Baluch Activists Campaign Organisation, Hengaw Organisation for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Kurdistan Human Rights in Geneva, the Kurdistan Human Rights Network and Minority Rights Group International called “for the urgent attention of the international community to an ongoing wave of arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention, and enforced disappearances by the Iranian authorities, targeting scores of people from Iran’s disadvantaged Kurdish minority.
“According to information gathered from informed sources, since 6 January 2021 [until 3 February – i.e., in less than a month’s duration], at least 96 individuals from Iran’s Kurdish minority, including civil society activists, labour rights activists, environmentalists, writers, university students and formerly imprisoned political activists as well as individuals with no known history of activism, have been arrested by the intelligence unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards or ministry of intelligence agents, at times in a violent manner”.
The statement by the 36 civil society and human rights organisations continued: “The arrests have taken place in at least 19 cities. According to informed sources, most of the arrests have been carried out without the authorities presenting an arrest warrant to those detained. According to information obtained from informed sources, of the 89 individuals who remain detained, at least 40 have been and are being subjected to enforced disappearance, and the authorities are refusing to reveal any information about their fate and whereabouts to their families”.
As detailed in the podcast, Hengaw further confirms that during March this year, “at least 22 Kurdish citizens were arrested by the Iranian security services on charges of political, civil activities and participation in Newroz celebrations”.
The podcast also provides disturbing details relating to the way in which Kurdish ‘kolbars’ have been targeted and killed by Iranian forces. The targeting of ‘kolbars’ by Turkish and Iranian authorities, as Medya News has also elsewhere reported, persists at an alarming level. The Kurdistan Human Rights Association’s data shows that in the last three years, at least 245 kolbars have died and more than 300 have been injured. During 2020, for example, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed that “a total of 59 Kurdish couriers were reported to have been killed by border officials in provinces in the north-west of Iran”.
State targeting of kolbars continues. Last month alone, Hengaw reported that at least 18 Kolbars and tradesmen were killed or wounded on the borders of Iranian Kurdistan, “78% of whom were shot by direct fire from the Iranian armed forces”. Alongside this, Kurds (as with Baloch) continue to be controversially targeted under ‘national security’ and other criteria and arrested and imprisoned and/or ‘disappeared’.
As the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has also noted, Kurds constitute a large percentage of political prisoners in Iran: “In January 2020, in his interim report on the human rights situation in Iran, UN Secretary General António Guterres said that Kurds charged with national security offenses represented nearly half of all political prisoners in Iran”.
On 21 September 2018, Kosar Nawzad, writing for Kurdistan24, noted that: “In the past six months, Iran has hanged over 40 Iranian Kurds and sentenced just under a dozen other activists to death, according to [Hengaw], a group reporting on human rights violations in the country”.
Further disturbing details are presented in the podcast. Just three months ago, for example, UN human rights experts – including four UN Special Rapporteurs and three members of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances – condemned the hanging of Javid Dehghan. They reportedly stated that they feared that a disturbing recent increase in executions of Baloch minority prisoners in Iran would continue. “We are very disturbed by this trend of executions against Baloch minority prisoners on death row and by practices of enforced disappearance of persons belonging to minorities. We call on the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately halt these executions and to overturn all death sentences ordered which are contrary to international human rights law”, they asserted.
On 15 January this year, Balochwarna News reported that in the previous month alone, at least eleven Baloch youths were reportedly executed at Dozzaap Central Prison alone. On 25 January, Balochwarna News drew attention to the following information: “It is important to note that in the last 34 days; at least 20 Baloch citizens have been executed in Dozzaap Central Prison” in Iran.