Iran: ongoing protests, deaths and mistreatment

“Death to the dictator” and “We don’t want an Islamic republic” chant the protesters, according to media reports. (Source: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire)

Protests against the Islamic regime continue in Iran. For the past 12 days in a row, protests have been taking place in numerous cities, including the capital, Tehran.

Media representatives speak of demonstrators returning to the streets of Tehran and other cities after dark every day. Slogans against the government and against the Supreme Leader, such as “Death to the dictator,” would be chanted at the events. Women are taking off their headscarves in various cities, protesting the country’s restrictive dress codes.

Participants organized despite a crackdown by security forces, mass arrests and Internet blocking. They say the government is deliberately blocking access to social networks and app stores such as WhatsApp and Google Play. Nevertheless, sporadic videos of protests and brutal crackdowns by security forces are reaching platforms.

Meanwhile, at least 76 people have been killed, according to activist sources. According to the Oslo-based NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR), six women and four children are also among the dead. State officials say about 60 people have been killed. According to the UN, security forces fired live ammunition into the crowd at times.

According to Amnesty International, minors were also among those killed. The Twitter channel of the Iranian branch of the human rights organization reported that several 15- and 16-year-olds had been shot by security forces.

“The risk of torture and ill-treatment of protesters is serious and the use of live ammunition against protesters is an international crime,” said IHR Director, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam.

Media also reported at least 1,200 people arrested since the protests began. However, according to activists, the number of arrests is said to be much higher. From the Masandaran province alone, the attorney general in charge reported 450 arrests in the last few days.

Internet blocked

Western media and humanitarian organizations point out that it is sometimes difficult to obtain reliable information from the country due to the ongoing Internet blackouts. For example, the Internet was completely shut down in the western Iranian province of Kurdistan, Amini’s homeland. Restrictions were also reported in Tehran and other major cities. Landlines would be severely throttled in speed, limiting their use.

With regard to Internet access via mobile networks, the organization Netblocks spoke of a “kind of Internet blackout hour”. Every afternoon, the government blocked mobile Internet access with all providers. Access would not be unblocked until the next morning. Protesters would start gathering in many places around 4 p.m. This means that pictures of protests cannot be sent promptly. This takes some of the “impact” out of the demonstrations, IT security expert and exile activist Amin Sabeti told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. For the organization of the protests, however, the Internet does not play a major role, he said. Rather, social networks served to draw international attention to what was happening in Iran.

Via Telegram (in Persian), teachers, university professors and students announced they would support the protests with strikes, the news site Al Monitor reported. At least 28 universities joined a nationwide campaign to boycott classes.

Press suppressed

In addition to Internet shutdowns, the regime is also increasingly pressuring media professionals to make reporting on the protests more difficult.
The journalist organizations Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had reported on Friday that more than 20 journalists had been detained. In addition, many media representatives in various cities had been summoned for questioning and threatened by officials, they said.

Sources had told the organizations of overnight house searches and arrests. Unknown security forces had confiscated smartphones and computers belonging to media workers. The officials had not identified themselves, and it had remained unclear which authorities they represented. The journalists had not been told what they were charged with, and no arrest warrants had been presented.

Detained reporters and bloggers reported mistreatment and inhumane detention conditions. The blogger Seyed Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, for example, had his leg broken by security forces while in custody.

Photojournalist Yalda Moaiery was also reportedly maltreated with beatings when she was arrested during protests in Tehran on September 19. When speaking to the exile news site IranWire (in Persian), she described conditions at Qarchak Women’s Prison in the city of Varamin as “terrible.” There, she said, more than 100 women are crammed into a very small space. “There are only three bathrooms for them, and prison authorities prescribe many sedatives to the prisoners,” she reported.

Reporter Niloofar Hamedi was also arrested. She had been one of the first to report on the death of Mahsa Amini, according to IranWire. Her lawyer said via Twitter (in Persian) on Sunday that she was in solitary confinement and being interrogated. She said officials had not told her what she was being charged with.

Press freedom repressed

CPJ sought statements from Iranian representatives in Geneva and at United Nations headquarters in New York about the media detentions. Responses have not been forthcoming, he said.

“Iranian authorities must immediately release all journalists arrested for their coverage of Mahsa Amini’s death and the protests that followed,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East Program Coordinator. Iranian security forces should cease their repressive measures against the journalists. Internet access should be restored, he said, as it is essential for informing the public.

RSF also called for the immediate release of the detained journalists and a lifting of all restrictions on the right to information in Iran. The organization ranks Iran 178th out of 180 on its press freedom index, with RSF calling the state “one of the ten countries with the worst press freedom in the world.” It remains one of the most repressive countries for journalists.

UN takes a stand

The protests were triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. She was arrested on September 13 during a visit to Tehran by the morality police because she had allegedly violated the dress code for women in the country – her hair was allegedly visible under her headscarf.

The exact circumstances of her death are as of yet unclear. According to the police, she is said to have fallen into a coma as a result of heart failure. Critics accuse the morality police of having used violence. The human rights organization Amnesty International spoke of an “arbitrary arrest” and reported that there were allegations of torture during Mahsa Amini’s pre-trial detention. The incident must be investigated by the authorities, it said.

UN Women expressed support for the demonstrators’ demands in a statement. “We call on the relevant authorities to support and enable the expression of their [women in Iran] full human rights in a safe environment without fear of violence, prosecution or persecution.”

U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Nada Al-Nashif called for the repeal of discriminatory laws in Iran. In recent months, she said, the morality police have increasingly verbally and physically harassed women who wore a loose hijab. The U.N. human rights office has sighted numerous verified videos showing violence against women, he said. Iran must also respect the rights to freedom of assembly and expression. The human rights commissioner condemned the reported excessive violence against demonstrators.

U.N. Secretary-General Guterres is also “increasingly concerned” about the rising death toll, “including women and children,” according to a U.N. statement Tuesday. He called on state security forces to refrain from using disproportionate force against demonstrators. He said he also expressed this appeal in a meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi last week.

EU foreign affairs envoy Josep Borrell said, “For the European Union and its member states, the widespread and disproportionate use of force against non-violent demonstrators is unjustifiable and unacceptable.” Iranian leaders dismissed the criticism as “interference in Iran’s internal affairs and support for rioters.” (hcz)