One year on, grief and anger over Iran protest crackdown

A burned bank in Tehran in the aftermath of protests over increased fuel prices. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 20 November 2020

One year on, grief and anger over Iran protest crackdown

  • Activists say the authorities managed to impose control only after a ruthless crackdown

PARIS: One year after protests that were harshly suppressed by the Iranian authorities, grief over the hundreds of mainly young lives lost is matched by anger over the lack of accountability for a crackdown whose scale is only now beginning to emerge.
The protests, of a magnitude rarely seen in Iran following the 1979 Islamic revolution and the biggest since 2009 rallies over a disputed election, erupted nationwide in November 2019 after a sudden hike in fuel prices.
Activists say the authorities managed to impose control only after a ruthless crackdown that, according to Amnesty International, left at least 304 people dead in a deliberate policy to shoot at demonstrators.
The harshness of the crackdown and size of the toll were concealed by an internet shutdown that activists denounced as a bid to prevent information from filtering out.
Meanwhile, not a single official in Iran has faced justice over the repression, amid allegations that families who lost loved ones have been pressured into keeping silent.
Those arrested during the protests, however, have faced sentences including the death penalty.
“Iranian authorities have avoided any measure of accountability and continue to harass the families of those killed during the protest,” said Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch.
According to a report published by Amnesty this week, Iran implemented “a near-total internet blackout” from Nov. 16, the day after the protests began, by ordering internet service providers to shut down, with access restored only gradually from Nov. 21.
It said the shutdown prevented people from seeing shocking videos of the crackdown taken by Iranian citizens with their phones, in what the group describes as a “web of impunity.”
Even now the scale of the suppression is still unclear, and Amnesty warns the toll is likely to exceed its figure of 304 verified deaths.
The group had posted online what it says are more than 100 verified videos taken in 31 cities in November 2019 revealing the “repeated use of firearms” against unarmed protesters and bystanders.
At least 23 of those killed were under the age of 18, Amnesty said, including teenagers like 15-year-old Mohammad Dastankhah, who was shot by security forces stationed on a roof while on his way home from school in Sadra, a city in the Shiraz region.
Another innocent bystander to die, it said, was Azar Mirzapour, 49, a nurse and mother of four who according to Amnesty was shot dead in Karaj, outside Tehran, as she was about to arrive home from work.
“The Iranian security forces used unlawful and excessive force against unarmed protesters and bystanders,” said Raha Bahreini, Iran researcher for Amnesty International.
“In most cases security forces used live ammunition aimed at the head or bodies, indicating they were implementing a shoot-to-kill policy,” she added.
Activists say that rather than helping relatives of the victims seek justice, authorities have been prosecuting protesters, with Amnesty alleging that those arrested were subjected to torture, including water-boarding and sexual abuse.
Death sentences imposed in June against three young men were halted only after a campaign to spare their lives both outside and inside Iran.
Manouchehr Bakhtiari, whose 27-year-old son Pouya was shot dead, was jailed after he criticized the authorities, according to Persian-language media based outside Iran.
The refusal of Iran to prosecute any officials — and the lack of response to calls for a UN-led international inquiry — has prompted activists to set up their own “tribunal” to determine whether crimes were committed under international law.
The Aban Tribunal, named after the Iranian month when the events took place, is being set up by NGOs including the London-based Justice for Iran and the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights (IHR).
Rights lawyers and other tribunal members will hear evidence from witnesses and victims from Feb. 10-12, 2021, in The Hague, and judgments will be announced in April 2021.
The tribunal will send a “strong message to those responsible for the atrocities that they are being watched and one day will be held accountable for the crimes they’ve committed,” said Mahmood Amiri-Moghaddam, executive director of IHR.


German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

Updated 24 November 2020

German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

  • Germany insists it acted correctly in boarding a Turkish ship to enforce arms embargo of Libya
  • Turkey summoned European diplomats to complain at the operation

BERLIN: Germany’s defense minister on Tuesday rejected Turkey’s complaints over the search of a Turkish freighter in the Mediterranean Sea by a German frigate participating in a European mission, insisting that German sailors acted correctly.
Sunday’s incident prompted Turkey to summon diplomats representing the European Union, Germany and Italy and assert that the Libya-bound freighter Rosaline-A was subjected to an “illegal” search by personnel from the German frigate Hamburg. The German ship is part of the European Union’s Irini naval mission, which is enforcing an arms embargo against Libya.
German officials say that the order to board the ship came from Irini’s headquarters in Rome and that Turkey protested while the team was on board. The search was then ended.
Turkey says the search was “unauthorized and conducted by force.”
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer backed the German crew’s actions.
“It is important to me to make really clear that the Bundeswehr soldiers behaved completely correctly,” she said during an appearance in Berlin. “They did what is asked of them in the framework of the European Irini mandate.”
“That there is this debate with the Turkish side points to one of the fundamental problems of this European mission,” Kramp-Karrenbauer added, without elaborating. “But it is very important to me to say clearly here that there are no grounds for these accusations that are now being made against the soldiers.”
This was the second incident between Turkey and naval forces from a NATO ally enforcing an arms blockade against Libya.
In June, NATO launched an investigation over an incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, after France said one of its frigates was “lit up” three times by Turkish naval targeting radar when it tried to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of involvement in arms trafficking.
Turkey supports a UN-backed government in Tripoli against rival forces based in the country’s east. It has complained that the EU naval operation focuses its efforts too much on the Tripoli administration and turns a blind eye to weapons sent to the eastern-based forces.
In Ankara, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Irini was “flawed from the onset.”
“It is not based on firm international legal foundations,” Akar said. He renewed Turkey’s criticism of the German ship’s actions.
“The incident was against international laws and practices. It was wrong,” he said.
Kramp-Karrenbauer stressed that “Turkey is still an important partner for us in NATO.” Turkey being outside the military alliance would make the situation even more difficult, she argued, and Turkish soldiers are “absolutely reliable partners” in NATO missions.
But she conceded that Turkey poses “a big challenge” because of how its domestic politics have developed and because it has its “own agenda, which is difficult to reconcile with European questions in particular.”