Amnesty puts Iran death toll above 200 as US says Tehran target of regional anger

Protests in Tehran last month after the government hiked petrol prices. (Reuters/File photo)
Updated 03 December 2019

Amnesty puts Iran death toll above 200 as US says Tehran target of regional anger

  • Secretary of State Pompeo says Iran the uniting factor behind protests in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran itself
  • Dozens of deaths recorded in Shahriar city in Tehran province

LONDON: At least 208 people are believed to have been killed during a crackdown on protests in Iran last month, Amnesty International said Monday. 

The steep increase in the number of dead came as the US said the clerical regime in Tehran was the uniting factor behind protests in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran itself.

“The number of people believed to have been killed during demonstrations in Iran that broke out on 15 November has risen to at least 208, based on credible reports received by the organization,” Amnesty said, adding that the actual death toll was likely to be higher.

The new toll ups the number of deaths according to Amnesty by almost 50, with the organisation saying dozens were recorded in Shahriar city in Tehran province, “one of the cities with the highest death tolls.”

Protests erupted on Nov. 15 after the shock announcement of a fuel price hike of up to 200 percent but were quickly quashed by authorities who also imposed a week-long near-total internet blackout.

Philip Luther, Amnesty's research and advocacy head for the Middle East, called the number of deaths “evidence that Iran's security forces went on a horrific killing spree,” and called on the international community to ensure those responsible are held accountable.

“The deaths have resulted almost entirely from the use of firearms," Amnesty said previously.

Amnesty added that, according to collected information, “families of victims have been threatened and warned not to speak to the media, or to hold funeral ceremonies for their loved ones.

“Some families are also being forced to make extortionate payments to have the bodies of their loved ones returned to them.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that the protests in Iran and demonstrations in iraq and Lebanon, where Tehran has significant influence, showed people across the regime were fed up with the mullahs.

While acknowledging diverse local reasons for the unrest that has swept the Middle East as well as other regions, Pompeo pointed the finger at Iran.

Iraqi premier Adel Abdel Mahdi resigned “because the people were demanding freedom and the security forces had killed dozens and dozens of people. That's due in large part to Iranian influence,” Pompeo said.

“The same is true in Lebanon, the protests in Beirut”" he said at the University of Louisville.

“They want Hezbollah and Iran out of their country, out of their system as a violent and a repressive force,” he said.

He said that protests inside Iran showed that Iranians were also “fed up.”

“They see a theocracy that is stealing money, the ayatollahs stealing tens and tens of millions of dollars,” he said.

In both Iraq and Lebanon, protesters have primarily called for an end to corruption, greater efforts to create jobs and a restructuring of the political system.

In Iraq, Abdel Mahdi had close ties with fellow Shiite-majority Iran but also enjoyed support from the United States. Protesters last week torched the Iranian consulate in Najaf.

In Lebanon, the United States has been seeking to isolate Hezbollah, the Shiite, pro-Iranian militant movement that is also a political party with berths in the previous government.

The Trump administration has put a priority on curbing Tehran's regional influence including by imposing sweeping sanctions.


Initial investigations point to negligence as cause of Beirut blast

Updated 23 min 9 sec ago

Initial investigations point to negligence as cause of Beirut blast

  • 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures
  • A source said a fire had started at warehouse 9 of the port and spread to warehouse 12, where the ammonium nitrate was stored

BEIRUT: Initial investigations indicate years of inaction and negligence over the storage of highly explosive material in Beirut port caused the blast that killed over 100 people on Tuesday, an official source familiar with the findings said.
The prime minister and presidency said on Tuesday that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures.
"It is negligence," the official source told Reuters, adding that the storage safety issue had been before several committees and judges and "nothing was done" to issue an order to remove or dispose of the highly combustible material.
The source said a fire had started at warehouse 9 of the port and spread to warehouse 12, where the ammonium nitrate was stored.
Tuesday's explosion was the most powerful ever suffered by Beirut, a city is still scarred by civil war three decades ago and reeling from a deep financial crisis rooted in decades of corruption and economic mismanagement.
Badri Daher, Director General of Lebanese Customs, told broadcaster LBCI on Wednesday that customs had sent six documents to the judiciary warning that the material posed a danger.
"We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why," Daher said.
Another source close to a port employee said a team that inspected the ammonium nitrate six months ago warned that if it was not moved it would "blow up all of Beirut".
According to two documents seen by Reuters, Lebanese Customs had asked the judiciary in 2016 and 2017 to ask the "concerned maritime agency" to re-export or approve the sale of the ammonium nitrate, removed from the a cargo vessel, Rhosus, and deposited in warehouse 12, to ensure port safety.
One of the documents cited similar requests in 2014 and 2015.
"A local and international investigation needs to be conducted into the incident, given the scale and the circumstances under which these goods were brought into the ports," said Ghassan Hasbani, former deputy prime minister and a member of the Lebanese Forces party.
Shiparrested.com, an industry network dealing with legal cases, had said in a 2015 report that the Rhosus, sailing under a Moldovan flag, docked in Beirut in September 2013 when it had technical problems while sailing from Georgia to Mozambique with 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.
It said that, upon inspection, the vessel was forbidden from sailing and shortly afterwards it was abandoned by its owners, leading to various creditors coming forward with legal claims.
"Owing to the risks associated with retaining the ammonium nitrate on board the vessel, the port authorities discharged the cargo onto the port's warehouses," it added.