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.