At least 208 killed in Iran protests and crackdown, Amnesty International says
At least 208 people in Iran have been killed amid protests over sharply rising gasoline prices and a subsequent crackdown by security forces, Amnesty International said Monday, as one government official acknowledged telling police to shoot demonstrators.
Iran has yet to release any nationwide statistics in the unrest that has gripped the nation beginning Nov. 15 with minimum prices for government-subsidized gasoline rising by 50%. State-run media did not acknowledge the Amnesty report and Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Iran shut down internet access amid the unrest, blocking those inside the country from sharing their videos and information, as well as limiting the outside world from knowing the scale of the protests and violence. With the restoration of the internet in recent days across much of the country, other videos have surfaced.
“We’ve seen over 200 people killed in a very swift time, in under a week,” said Mansoureh Mills, an Iran researcher at Amnesty. “It’s something pretty unprecedented even in the history of the human rights violations in the Islamic Republic.”
While not drawing as many Iranians into the streets as those protesting the disputed 2009 presidential election, the gasoline price demonstrations rapidly turned violent faster than any previous rallies. That shows the widespread economic discontent gripping the country since May 2018, when President Trump imposed crushing sanctions after unilaterally withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Since the summer, tensions across the Mideast have increased with attacks the U.S. blames on Tehran. Iran, meanwhile, began to break the deal’s centrifuges, enrichment and stockpile limitations in hopes of pressuring Europe to offer it a way to sell crude oil abroad despite Washington’s sanctions.
In a statement Monday, Amnesty said there had been “dozens of deaths” in Tehran’s Shahriar suburb, probably one of the areas with the highest death toll in the unrest. Shahriar had seen heavy protests.
Amnesty offered no breakdown for the deaths elsewhere in the country, though it said “the real figure is likely to be higher.” Mills said there was a “general environment of fear [within] Iran at the moment.”
“The authorities have been threatening families, some have been forced to sign undertakings that they won’t speak to the media,” she said. “Families have been forced to bury their loved ones at night under heavy security presence.”
Authorities also have been visiting hospitals, looking for patients with gunshot wounds or other injuries from the unrest, Mills said. She said authorities then immediately detain those with the suspicious wounds.
The demonstrations began after authorities raised minimum gasoline prices to 15,000 rials per liter. That’s 12 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. After a monthly 60-liter quota, it costs 30,000 rials a liter. That’s nearly 90 cents a gallon. An average gallon of regular gas in the U.S. costs $2.58 by comparison, according to AAA.
Cheap gasoline is practically considered a birthright in Iran, home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves despite decades of economic woes since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Gasoline there remains among the cheapest in the world, in part to help keep costs low for its underemployed, who often drive taxis to make ends meet.
Iran’s per-capita gross domestic product, often used as a rough gauge of a nation’s standard of living, is just over $6,000, compared with more than $62,000 in the U.S., according to the World Bank. That disparity, especially given Iran’s oil wealth, fueled the anger felt by demonstrators.
Already, Iranians have seen their savings chewed away by the rial’s collapse from 32,000 to $1 at the time of the 2015 nuclear accord to 126,000 to $1 today. Daily staples also have risen in price.
The scale of the demonstrations also remains unclear. One Iranian lawmaker said he thought that more than 7,000 people had been arrested, although the nation’s top prosecutor disputed the figure without offering his own. Meanwhile, a long-detained opposition leader in Iran compared the recent crackdown on protesters to soldiers of the shah gunning down demonstrators in an event that led to the Islamic Revolution, raising the rhetorical stakes of the unrest.
On Twitter, Iranian lawmakers have expressed their anger over the lack of information, although the microblogging website remains otherwise banned in the country.
“In addition to the selective portrayal of destruction of public property, [state-run] Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting should show a few protesters being shot,” lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi of Tehran wrote sarcastically.
Meanwhile, the governor of a Tehran suburb that saw demonstrations openly acknowledged in a video interview with the state-owned Iran newspaper that she ordered police to shoot protesters if they stormed her offices. Shahr-e Quds Gov. Leila Vaseghi also said that she sent text messages to citizens telling them to not join the “rioters” and that there was a “possibility of a shooting” if they did.
“I had told [the police]: ‘Shoot at anybody who crosses the gate of the governor office,’” Vaseghi said in the interview.
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