Iran admits 'rioters, protesters' shot and killed amid bloody crackdown

Iran admits 'rioters, protesters' shot and killed amid bloody crackdown
Tehran has previously rejected international reports alleging hundreds of people have been killed in a brutal crackdown on demonstrations.
4 min read
03 December, 2019
At least 208 protesters were killed in the crackdown, according to Amnesty International [Getty]
Iranian state television on Tuesday acknowleged security forces shot and killed what it described as "rioters" in multiple cities - the first time that Tehran has admitted any sort of violence against demonstrators amid recent protests over the spike in government-set fuel prices.

The acknowledgement came in a television package that criticised international Farsi-language channels for their reporting on the crisis, which began on 15 November.

While describing some of those killed as armed "rioters", the report also said that by-standers and peaceful protesters had been killed, without assigned blame for their deaths.

Tehran has until now rejected international reports of the killing of protesters, blaming the unrest on "thugs" backed by Iran's foreign enemies.

A near-total internet blackout during the height of the protests and government silence has prevented the gathering of accurate statistics on how many demonstrators have been killed and wounded.

Amnesty International said on Monday it believes at least 208 protesters were killed in the brutal crackdown on protests.

Iran's mission to the United Nations disputed the human rights organisation's findings early on Tuesday, thought it offered no evidence to support its claim.

Tehran has yet to release any nationwide statistics over the unrest that gripped the Islamic Republic with minimum prices for government-subsidized gasoline rising by 50 percent.

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. The restoration of the internet in recent days across much of the country has seen other videos surface.

"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 event 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. Analysts say the violence shows the widespread economic discontent gripping the country since May last year, when US President Donald Trump imposed crushing sanctions after unilaterally withdrawing from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

Read more: Iranians are caught between biting sanctions and a brutal crackdown

The state TV report sought to describe killings in four categories, alleging some of those killed were "rioters who have attacked sensitive or military centers with firearms or knives, or have taken hostages in some areas". The report described others killed as passers-by, security forces and peaceful protesters, without assigning blame for their deaths.

In one case, the report said security forces confronted a separatist group in the southwestern city of Mahshahr armed with "semi-heavy weapons".

"For hours, armed rioters had waged an armed struggle," the report alleged. "In such circumstances, security forces took action to save the lives of Mahshahr's people."

Mahshahr in Iran's Khuzestan province was believed to be hard-hit in the crackdown. The surrounding oil-rich province's Arab population long has complained of discrimination by Iran's central government and insurgent groups have attacked area oil pipelines in the past there.

Online videos purportedly from the area showed peaceful protests, as well as clashes between demonstrators and security forces.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that between 40 and 100 peaceful demonstrators hiding from security forces in a marsh nearby the city had been shot dead by Revolutionary Guards troops.

State TV separately acknowledged confronting "rioters" in Tehran, as well as in the cities of Shiraz and Sirjan. It also mentioned Shahriar, a suburb of Tehran where Amnesty on Monday said there had been "dozens of deaths". 

It described the suburb as likely one of the areas with the highest toll of those killed in the unrest.

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 inside of 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 alleged that authorities then immediately detain those with the suspicious wounds.

"A number of exile groups (and media networks) have either taken credit for instigating both ordinary people to protest and riots, or have encouraged lawlessness and vandalism, or both," said Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman at Iran's UN mission in New York.

Follow us on 
Twitter and Instagram to stay connected