HERAT -- A video showing Iranian border guards violently abusing and humiliating Afghan immigrants has recently gone viral on social media, evoking sharp criticism and public outrage among Afghans, including many of whom have faced such violence themselves.
The video shows Afghan immigrants standing in a line. An Iranian border guard then slaps each one in the face while yelling. It is unclear when and where the video was filmed.
On December 23, the Afghan Foreign Ministry summoned the Iranian deputy chief of mission to Kabul, and issued a statement that "condemned the beating and insulting of these Afghan migrants in Iran and called the action inhumane".
"A video has recently gone viral on major national and international media outlets, which appears to be the evidence of an inappropriate, humiliating and despicable treatment by members of the Islamic Republic of Iran's law enforcement against some Afghan immigrants," the ministry said in a December 20 letter addressed the Iranian embassy in Kabul.
"Afghanistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs hereby expresses its concerns over the aforementioned incident," said the ministry.
"It is greatly appreciated if the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Kabul informs the relevant authorities in Iran and to update this ministry of the results of the investigation," it said.
The Afghan government is following up on the issue through diplomatic channels, Shah Hussain Murtazawi, the deputy spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, told journalists in a December 19 WhatsApp message.
"We, too, have seen on social networks footage of Afghans being beaten up by the Iranian security forces," Jilani Farhad, a spokesman for Herat's provincial governor, told Salaam Times. "This is a source of concern for Herat's local government, and the matter will definitely be pursued."
"Previously, reports of harassment of Afghan refugees in the hands of Iranian law enforcement agencies had reached us, and we shared our concerns with the [Afghan] government, as well as with the Iranian government through diplomatic channels," Farhad said. "We want to end all kinds of violence against immigrants in Iran."
"The situation of Afghan immigrants in Iran is gravely concerning," Ahmad Jawid Nadem, the director of the Herat branch of the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations, told Salaam Times.
"We have also seen frightening images on social media pages showing Afghan refugees, most of whom teenagers and children, who are being tortured by the Iranian troops," he said.
"Immigrants who are beaten or physically abused often refrain from lodging official complaints as they are afraid of the repercussions should they ever go back to Iran," Nadem noted. "This has made our work very difficult."
He said returning Afghan migrants have, however, verbally made serious allegations and complaints about the harsh actions of the Iranian government.
Afghan refugees expelled from Iran are sharing grim stories of their abuse by Iranian forces.
"Iranian soldiers treated us inhumanely," Nader Taheri, a 31-year-old resident of Herat who was recently deported from Iran, told Salaam Times. "There were many young children with us when the Iranian authorities brought us to the camp, and [the Iranian armed forces] raped these children."
After Taheri's group was arrested, "the Iranian security forces treated us like animals and beat us badly," he said.
"They took off our clothes and kept us in a place for a few hours," Taheri said. "There, Iranian military forces raped a number of children right in front of our eyes."
"Once the Iranian police took us to prison, they told us, 'You have to get money and pay us,' but we did not have money," said Abdurrazzaq Ayubi, 29, a resident of Badakhshan Province who has left Iran and now lives in a United Nations (UN) refugee camp in Herat city.
"They beat us, harassed us, and cursed at us. They even severely beat young children to the point that they broke their arms and legs," he told Salaam Times.
"You are a bunch of bastard Afghans is what the Iranian forces will tell us," Ayubi said. "We saw many Afghans whose limbs were broken by the Iranian forces."
"When I was arrested by the Iranian police, I was subjected to a severe beating at the first police station, and when they took us to the second station, they beat me up again," Habibullah, 26, another resident of Herat who goes by one name, told Salaam Times.
"There were 36 of us," he said. "They took us inside a small house that had no roof, stripped us of our clothes, pressed our heads against walls and told us not to look at each other. "We could hear those children who were with us screaming while being raped by Iranian soldiers. We went through hell, and every moment, we could see death in front of our eyes."
Habibullah said he was severely beaten up by three soldiers using their rifle butts, adding that he was "still suffering from the consequences".
"The mistreatment of Afghan refugees by the Iranian forces was severe and intense," Ali, a 25-year-old from Bamiyan Province who left Iran and now lives in the UN refugee camp in Herat city, told Salaam Times. "Once we were taken to their prison, we were severely beaten up," he said, adding, "We were subject to such tortures as electric shocks and tear gas."
"The Iranian forces also brought in a few refugees who did not have money and broke their arms and legs," he added.
Human rights violations
"We have recorded and documented complaints made by Afghan returnees and refugees who have been forcibly deported by the Iranian government," said Abdul Qader Rahimi, the Herat provincial director of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
"They have been truly subjected to mistreatment by Iranian law enforcement officials," he said.
"Iranian troops beating immigrants is a matter of concern for us, and we have addressed the complaints of these immigrants to government agencies and have also published them in the Independent Human Rights Commission's annual reports," Rahimi said.
"It has been clearly stipulated in domestic and international laws that when a crime is committed by citizens of a country against another country's citizens, then it is the responsibility of the country of the culprits to pursue the matter to prevent it from turning into an international issue," Abdul Karim Haqyar, a Herat-based legal scholar, told Salaam Times.
"The country of which the perpetrator of a crime is a national is obligated to pursue the case," he said.
"Through legal channels, the Afghan government can place pressure on the Iranian embassy in Kabul, so that legal and judicial organisations can follow up on this case," Haqyar explained.
"This way, Iran's law enforcement officials will take necessary actions to find and arrest the perpetrators, bring them to court," he added.