Iran ‘deliberately’ suppressing death, arrest tolls: Rights group

An Iranian covers his face with his bloodied hand during clashes with security forces in Tehran. Protests broke out in Iran against increase in fuel prices. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 November 2019

Iran ‘deliberately’ suppressing death, arrest tolls: Rights group

  • Reports of deaths and arrests emerged as security forces were deployed to rein in demonstrations

BEIRUT: Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday accused the Iranian authorities of “deliberately covering up” deaths and arrests during a crackdown on demonstrations across the country earlier this month.

Protests broke out across sanction-hit Iran on Nov. 15, hours after a shock announcement of fuel price rise of up to 200 percent.

Reports of deaths and arrests emerged as security forces were deployed to rein in demonstrations, which turned violent in some areas, with dozens of banks, petrol pumps and police stations torched.

The extent of the crackdown is unclear, however, primarily due to an internet outage imposed during the unrest in a step seen as aimed at curbing the spread of videos of the violence.

HRW said the authorities were “deliberately covering up the scale of the mass crackdown against protesters” and called on them to “immediately announce the number of deaths, arrests, and detentions ... and permit an independent inquiry into alleged abuses.”

Its deputy Middle East director, Michael Page, censured Iran for having so far “refused to provide an accurate death toll and instead threatened detainees with death.”

Rights groups, including Amnesty International, have estimated at least 140 people were killed and up to 7,000 arrested in the protests, HRW said in a statement.

Officials have confirmed five people were killed and have so far announced the arrest of about 500 others, including some 180 “ringleaders.”

“Keeping families in the dark about the fate of their loved ones while ratcheting up an atmosphere of fear and retribution is a deliberate government strategy to stifle dissent,” Page said.

Internet connectivity has returned to much of the country in recent days, except for on mobile telephone networks, said NetBlocks, a site that monitors internet disruptions.

The US said Tuesday that it had received thousands of messages from Iran about protests after appealing to demonstrators to defy restrictions on the internet.

“We’ve received to date nearly 20,000 messages, videos, pictures, notes of the regime’s abuses through Telegram messaging services,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters, referring to the encrypted app.

Iranian officials have blamed the violence during demonstrations on the intervention of “thugs” backed by royalists and Iran’s archenemies — the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Long-fraught links between Tehran and Washington plunged to a new low in May last year when the US unilaterally withdrew from an international accord that gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.


Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

Updated 25 January 2020

Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

  • Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington
  • It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past

ANKARA: More than 420 people working at a crucial military air base in southern Turkey have lost their jobs, with some analysts considering it symbolic of decreased cooperation levels with the US and as the Pentagon reconsiders Middle East deployments.
Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington. It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past, as well as hosting US nuclear warheads.
The Colorado-based company Vectrus System Corporation, which provides day-to-day maintenance and operation services at the base, terminated the contracts of almost half of its employees at the base earlier this month.
“The base surged to support OIR,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News. “The Turkey-based staff for OIR has mostly left. So, the base is going back to its pre-OIR level of people, and that level requires less contractor support.”
Vectrus did not reply to Arab News’ request for comment about its decision to scale back at the base.
Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said the move was largely symbolic as the canceled contracts related to logistical support rather than the US military mission.
“But obviously, it comes against the background of some tensions in the US-Turkish relationship and previous hints by Ankara that it might reconsider the status of the Incirlik base,” he told Arab News. “The Pentagon is reconsidering its deployment across the Middle East and it might be looking to become less dependent on Incirlik without fully exiting this crucial military air base.”
Incirlik air base has been used in the past as a bargaining chip at times of tension between the two countries.
“Turkey may re-evaluate the status of the Incirlik Air Base if the US imposes sanctions,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month in an interview with pro-government channel A-Haber, referring to the potential fallout from Turkey’s decision to buy an air defense system from Russia. 
Washington has threatened to use its Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act to punish Ankara for buying the S-400 system.
Seth J. Frantzman, who is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said reports of the US reducing presence at Incirlik, or challenges to the US presence there, have been growing over the last years.
“Whether these reports relate to changes or are just random is unclear and it is important to note that the large interests of the military and history tend to mean the US does not simply walk away from bases, even if it reduces its role slowly over time,” he told Arab News.
The US has invested heavily in the Jordanian Muwaffaq Salti Air Base to expand its presence there.