Iran is using illegal and excessive force in a crackdown on protests over water shortages in its oil-rich but arid southwestern province of Khuzestan, according to international rights groups.
Amnesty International said it had confirmed the deaths of at least eight protesters and bystanders, including a teenager, after authorities used live ammunition to quell protests.
Iranian media and officials have said that at least three people were killed, including a police officer and a protester, accusing “opportunists” and “rioters” of shooting at protesters and security forces.
“Iran’s security forces have deployed illegal force, including firing live ammunition and pellets, to crush mostly peaceful protests,” Amnesty International said. Analysis of video footage of the protests and eyewitness accounts “indicates that the security forces used deadly automatic weapons, inherently indiscriminate shotguns and tear gas,” he said.
Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, said in a separate statement that Iranian authorities appeared to have used excessive force against protesters and that the government should “transparently investigate” the reported deaths. “The Iranian authorities have a very worrying record of responding with bullets to protesters frustrated by increasing economic difficulties and deteriorating living conditions,” said their researcher on Iran, Tara Sepehri Far.
Human rights groups have previously accused Iran of launching a fierce crackdown in 2019 against nationwide protests over rising fuel prices that Amnesty said killed at least 304 people.
“The Iranian authorities have a heartbreaking record of illegal use of deadly force. The events unfolding in Khuzestan have chilling echoes of November 2019, ”said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.
Amnesty said that a teenager, Hadi Bahmani, had been killed in the city of Izeh.
Iranian authorities have blamed the rioters for the riots. Amnesty said that the Fars news agency had published interviews with relatives of two of the murdered men, distancing itself from their actions. However, the human rights group quoted a source as saying that one of the families had been visited by plainclothes officers who “forced them to recite a previously prepared script on camera.”
Human Rights Watch said there have also been reports of internet outages in the area and that “for the past three years, authorities have frequently restricted access to information during protests.”
Khuzestan is Iran’s main oil-producing region, but it has been battling an intense drought since March. The province is home to a large Arab minority, and its people regularly complain of being marginalized by the authorities.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday that he understood protesters’ anger over the drought in the country’s southwest. The comment, reported on state television, was his first direct comment on the protests since they began a week ago.
“People showed their discontent, but we cannot have any complaints, as the water problem in the hot Khuzestan climate is not a minor problem,” Khamenei was quoted as saying.
He accused Iran’s enemies of trying to exploit the situation and warned: “The enemy will try to use any tool against the revolution, the nation and the interests of the people, so we must be careful not to give it any pretext.”
He praised the people of the region for their loyalty and efforts during the war against Iraq in the 1980s, adding that “the people should not face any more problems.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday that citizens had the right to protest.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism