GENEVA: Iranian security forces were “shooting to kill” in their deadly crackdown against protesters in recent weeks, according to credible video footage, the UN human rights chief said on Friday.
It had obtained “verified video footage” showing security forces firing on protesters, apparently with intent to kill, the UN human rights office said in a statement.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the unrest left at least 208 people dead nationwide, supporting a toll previously given by Amnesty International.
“There are also reports, which the UN Human Rights Office has so far been unable to verify, suggesting more than twice that number killed,” the statement added.
Iran disputes death toll figures released by foreign organizations but has so far refused to any countrywide casualty or arrest figures.
Bachelet said footage received by her office appears to show demonstrators were gunned down while running away, or being shot “directly in the face and vital organs.”
It also said that at least 7,000 people have “reportedly” been arrested in Iran since mass demonstrations erupted last month, and called for the immediate release of those arbitrarily detained.
Such actions amounted to “serious violations of human rights,” Bachelet said.
She urged Iran to allow independent investigations into the violations, and release of all protesters who were unfairly stripped of their liberty during the crackdown.
“Verified video footage indicates severe violence was used against protesters, including armed members of security forces shooting from the roof of a justice department building in one city, and from helicopters in another,” Bachelet said.
Bachelet’s office said it had received many reports of ill-treatment against people arrested, “including with the apparent aim of extracting forced confessions.”
The demonstrations began in mid-November after the government raised minimum gasoline prices. Cheap gasoline is practically considered a birthright in Iran, home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves despite decades of economic woes. That disparity, especially given Iran’s oil wealth, fueled the anger felt by demonstrators.
Additional video material shows “armed members of security forces shooting from the roof of a justice department building” in the city of Javanrud, west of Tehran in Kermanshah province, as well as gunfire from helicopters in Sadra, in Fars province.
The toll of at least 208 makes it the bloodiest unrest in Iran since the time of the Islamic revolution.
Iran has yet to give overall figures for the number of people killed or arrested when security forces moved in to quell the unrest that saw buildings torched and shops looted.
Bachelet charged that “many of the arrested protesters have not had access to a lawyer,” while raising alarm over “reports of severe overcrowding and harsh conditions in detention centers, which in some cities include military barracks, sports venues and schools.”
“I urge the authorities to immediately release from detention all protesters who have been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty,” she further said.
The 2009 Green Movement protests that followed a disputed presidential election drew millions to the streets but saw far less killing.
The demonstrations show the widespread economic discontent gripping Iran since May 2018, when President Donald Trump imposed crushing sanctions after unilaterally withdrawing the US from the nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers. That decision has seen Iran begin to break limits of the deal, as well as a series of attacks across the Mideast that America has blamed on Tehran.