Rights group calls ‘alarming’ death toll ‘evidence that Iran’s security forces went on a horrific killing spree’.
Iranian state television has acknowledged security forces shot and killed what it described as “rioters” in multiple cities amid recent protests over the spike in government-set petrol prices.
It was the first time authorities offered any sort of accounting for the violence used to put down the deadly demonstrations.
The acknowledgement came in a television report on Tuesday that criticised international Persian-language channels for their reporting on the crisis, which began on November 15.
The state TV report described the killings in four categories, alleging some of those killed were “rioters who have attacked sensitive or military centres with firearms or knives, or have taken hostages in some areas”.
The report described others killed as passers-by, security forces, and peaceful protesters without assigning blame for their deaths.
In one case, the report said security forces confronted a separatist group in the city of Mahshahr armed with “semi-heavy weapons”.
“For hours, armed rioters had waged an armed struggle,” the report said. “In such circumstances, security forces took action to save the lives of Mahshahr’s people.”
Mahshahr in Iran’s southwestern Khuzestan province was believed to be hard-hit in the crackdown.
“Iran is killing perhaps thousands and thousands of people right now as we speak, that is why they cut off the internet so people can’t see what is going on,” Trump said during a visit to London.
“Not just small numbers which are bad, big numbers which are really bad, and really big numbers … It is a terrible thing and the world has to be watching.”
Amnesty International said on Monday it believes at least 208 people were killed in the protests and the crackdown that followed.
Iranian officials disputed Amnesty’s findings on Tuesday, though no evidence was offered to support the denials.
“I explicitly announce that the numbers and figures that are being given by hostile groups are utter lies and the statistics have serious differences with what they announced,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said.
“They announced some numbers as well as some names … Their claimed numbers are shear lies and fabricated,” he said in remarks aired on state television.
“The names they have given are also lies,” Esmaili said, adding they included people who were still alive and others who passed away of natural causes.
Iran has yet to release any nationwide statistics over the unrest that gripped the nation with minimum prices for government-subsidised petrol rising by 50 percent.
Iran shut down internet access amid the unrest, blocking those inside the country from sharing videos and information, as well as limiting the outside world from knowing the scale of the protests and violence.
The restoration of the internet in recent days across much of the country has seen some videos surface.
“We’ve seen over 200 people killed in a very swift time, in under a week,” said Mansoureh Mills, an Iran researcher at Amnesty.
“It’s something pretty unprecedented event in the history of the human rights violations in the Islamic Republic.”
Iranian state TV separately acknowledged confronting “rioters” in Tehran, as well as in the cities of Shiraz and Sirjan.
It also mentioned Shahriar, a suburb of Tehran where Amnesty on Monday said there had been “dozens of deaths”.
It described the suburb as likely one of the areas with the highest toll of those killed in the unrest.
Amnesty offered no breakdown for the deaths elsewhere in the country, though it said “the real figure is likely to be higher”.
Mills said there was a “general environment of fear inside of Iran at the moment”.
“The authorities have been threatening families, some have been forced to sign undertakings that they won’t speak to the media,” she said. “Families have been forced to bury their loved ones at night under heavy security presence.”
Iran’s UN mission in New York called Amnesty’s findings “unsubstantiated” without elaborating.
“A number of exile groups [and media networks] have either taken credit for instigating both ordinary people to protest and riots, or have encouraged lawlessness and vandalism, or both,” said Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman at the mission.
Iranian officials have accused the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia of fomenting the violence. Security agents arrested at least eight people linked to the CIA during the deadly unrest, the intelligence ministry said last week.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – in his strongest remarks since the demonstrations peaked – described the two weeks of violence as the work of a “very dangerous conspiracy”.
The governor of Tehran province, Anoushiravan Mohseni Bandpay, meanwhile, said many of the 2,021 people arrested in the province during the unrest had been released, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency.
“In the recent unrest 2,021 people were arrested, many of whom were arrested for the first time based on [their] ignorance and in an emotional atmosphere and were immediately released,” Bandpay said on Tuesday.