Iran’s army chief declared on Thursday that police had quelled anti-government unrest that has killed 21 people but that his troops were ready to intervene if needed, as authorities staged more pro-government rallies, Reuters reports.
The protests, which seem spontaneous and without a unifying leader, erupted a week ago in Iran’s second city of Mashhad over economic hardships – mostly high youth unemployment, high living costs and alleged corruption.
“Although this blind sedition was so small that a portion of the police force was able to nip it in the bud … you can rest assured that your comrades in the Islamic Republic’s army would be ready to confront the dupes of the Great Satan (United States),” Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi was quoted in official media as saying.
Iran’s vastness, as well as restrictions on independent media, make it hard to determine the breadth and depth of the unrest.
The semi-official labor news agency ILNA said the government on Thursday lifted restrictions on Instagram, one of the social media tools used to mobilize protesters. But access to a more widely used messaging app, Telegram, remained blocked, suggesting authorities remained uneasy about protest threats.
In the latest protests, which generally occur after nightfall, social media video showed demonstrators in Khorramabad in southwestern Iran on Wednesday evening throwing stones at riot police, who were retreating. In other social media footage, hundreds poured into streets of the northwestern city of Orumiyeh near the Turkish border, chanting anti-government slogans. None of the videos could be authenticated by Reuters.
The student news agency ISNA quoted Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli as saying on Thursday that “at most 42,000 people attended the protests, which is not much” in a nation of 80 million people. On Wednesday, the commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said the number of “troublemakers” did not exceed 15,000 nationwide.
Amnesty International said on Thursday that more than a thousand Iranians had been arrested and detained in jails “notorious for torture and other ill-treatment over the past seven days”, with many being denied access to families and lawyers.
“Law enforcement officials have the right to defend themselves, and a duty to protect the safety of the public. However, reports of the use of firearms against unarmed protesters by security forces are deeply troubling and would contravene Iran’s human rights obligations under international law. The Iranian government must promptly launch an effective and independent investigation into the killings and other reports of excessive or unnecessary force, and bring all those responsible for human rights violations to justice,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Videos and eyewitness testimonies have emerged on social media and media outlets showing or describing riot police and other security forces using excessive and unnecessary force, including firing ammunition at unarmed protesters, beating protesters with truncheons and using tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrations. Amnesty International has not been able to verify the videos or witness accounts.