LONDON: New evidence shows that Iranian security forces continue to use lethal force against peaceful protesters around the country, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned.
Through videos captured by demonstrators and reporters, as well as interviews with witnesses and security officials, HRW uncovered evidence of the use of excessive and lethal force in more than a dozen cities around Iran.
Weapons including shotguns and assault rifles were deployed against protesters during the security response to the demonstrations, which began last month in the wake of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was killed by a mob after “improperly” wearing the hijab after President Ibrahim Raisi strengthened laws on the headdress.
Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “The Iranian authorities’ brutal response to protests across many cities indicates concerted action by the government to crush dissent with cruel disregard for life. The security forces’ widespread shooting of protesters only serves to fuel anger against a corrupt and autocratic government.
“People in Iran are protesting because they do not see the death of Mahsa Amini and the authorities’ crackdown as an isolated event, but rather the latest example of the government’s systematic repression of its own people.”
A 35-year-old woman from Sanandaj city told HRW: “We had gathered to chant when security forces on motorcycles came toward us.
“We ran toward the alley as they followed us and started throwing tear gas and some started shooting bullets. A man behind us was shot in the leg and fell on the ground. People dragged him into another alley and inside someone’s home. His wound was bleeding very heavily and was very deep.”
At least four videos reviewed by HRW show security forces using shotguns against crowds of protesters.
Another witness said: “Security forces ran toward a 13-year-old boy who was standing among the crowd.
“He was so delicate and small that he didn’t even resist. He was on the grass protecting his head while they were beating him. I yelled ‘Leave him alone!’ and walked towards them. They fired in the air and people started fleeing while they dragged the boy across the street.
“While I was running, I kept yelling ‘He is my brother!’, thinking that was going to provoke their mercy. I saw an officer turning, sitting down, and aiming at me. I saw the fire from his weapon. I got scared and ran away. I had a burning sensation until I got home and realized that I was hit in my chest.”
The human rights organization has gathered a list of 47 people who died during the violence as a result of lethal force, many having been shot.
However, HRW said that the true number of deaths is likely far higher than Iranian state media has reported. At the end of September, state television claimed that the death toll stood at about 60.