Iran blasts Amnesty protest toll calling it 'disinformation'

Rights group accused Iranian security forces of 'excessive and lethal force' to crush protests, killing at least 106.

    People walk past buildings burned during protests against the spike of fuel prices in the city of Karaj [Masoume Aliakbar/ISNA via AP]
    People walk past buildings burned during protests against the spike of fuel prices in the city of Karaj [Masoume Aliakbar/ISNA via AP]

    Iran rejected human rights watchdog Amnesty International's death toll at more than 100 in recent protests as "fabricated", calling the group a "biased" organisation.

    Tehran's UN spokesman Alireza Miryousefi described Amnesty's figure of 106 dead in the demonstrations as part of a "disinformation campaign waged against Iran from outside the country".

    "Any casualty figures not confirmed by the government are speculative [and] not reliable," the spokesman tweeted.

    In a statement on Tuesday, the UK-based rights group accused Iranian security forces of using "excessive and lethal force" to crush the demonstrations since they started on Friday.

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    Iran was rocked by nationwide protests sparked by growing anger and frustration after authorities rolled out a petrol-rationing scheme and slashed subsidies in a move that sent prices soaring by 50 percent.

    Iranian officials said the steep price increase was imperative because of crippling American sanctions devastating its oil-based economy, and the money raised would be given to the nation's poorest people.

    The government said the price rises were intended to raise about $2.55bn a year for extra subsidies to 18 million families struggling on low incomes.

    Amnesty's report said security forces inflicted brutality on demonstrators in 21 cities, including snipers firing live rounds into crowds from rooftops and helicopters.

    "The baseless allegations and fabricated figures by biased Western entities do not shake [the] government's determination in making prudent economic decisions while respecting human rights of its people, including to freely exercise their right to protest in a peaceful environment," said Miryousefi.

    'Armed anarchists'

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday claimed victory over the unrest and again blamed it on foreign foes.

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    Authorities said about 1,000 people have been detained over the violence after businesses, banks, and government offices were set ablaze or vandalised.

    Thousands joined pro-government demonstrations on Wednesday, state media reported, with television footage showing rallies in Rasht, Gorgan and Ardabil in the north, Hamadan in the west, and Shahryar, south of the capital Tehran.

    Iranian dual nationals were among protesters arrested in the northern province of Alborz, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. Quoting security sources, it said detained German, Turkish and Afghan dual nationals had been trained and funded by foreign security services to take actions to destroy infrastructure and stir up civil disobedience.

    These dual nationals had special equipment to be used for sabotage, it added without providing evidence or further details.

    Rouhani blamed the uprising on "armed anarchists" who took to the streets "based on a plot that the "Zionists and Americans had hatched".

    "The Iranian people have again succeeded in an historic test and shown they will not let enemies benefit from the situation, even though they might have complaints about the country's management," Rouhani said in remarks carried by state broadcaster IRIB on its website.

    Tehran has blamed "thugs" linked to exiles and foreign foes - the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia - for the unrest.

    Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday the protests had been a security matter, not a popular movement, and had been dealt with successfully.

    Iran has curbed access to the internet, making it near impossible for protesters to post social media videos of rallies.

    Moribund economy

    Frustration has grown over a weakening currency and rising prices for bread, rice and other staples since the US withdrew from Iran's 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers and re-imposed sanctions.

    Thousands of mourners chanted "Death to America" at a funeral procession on Wednesday for one of those killed in the protests, a Revolutionary Guard commander, in Shahriar, west of Tehran.

    The full extent of the bloodshed is difficult to ascertain given a near-total internet blackout now in its fourth day.

    The UN human rights office on Tuesday said it was alarmed by reports live ammunition had been used against protesters and caused a "significant number of deaths". But spokesman Rupert Colville cautioned that casualty details were hard to verify, in part because of internet restrictions.

    Tensions have soared this year with the US widening its sanctions to include Khamenei, the Revolutionary Guard, and other key entities as Iran scaled back its nuclear commitments under the accord.

    The arch-foes came to the brink of a military confrontation in June when Iran downed a US drone and US President Donald Trump ordered retaliatory attacks before cancelling them at the last minute.

    On Tuesday, the US aircraft carrier strike group Abraham Lincoln sailed through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway separating Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

    Iran - which controls much of the strategic waterway through which 20 percent of the world's oil supply travels - regularly threatens to shut it down if its enemies commit hostile acts.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies