Opinion

Amnesty investigates ‘dozens of deaths’ in Iran protests as regime’s Guards give ominous warning

An Iranian man checks a scorched gas station that was set ablaze by protesters during a demonstration against a rise in gasoline prices in Eslamshahr, near the Iranian capital of Tehran, on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 19 November 2019

Amnesty investigates ‘dozens of deaths’ in Iran protests as regime’s Guards give ominous warning

  • The comments raise fears that a harsh security crackdown could be on the cards
  • Protests have spread across the Islamic Republic since Friday

DUBAI: Amnesty international said it was investigating "dozens of deaths" in Iran as powerful Revolutionary Guards warned anti-government protesters of “decisive” action if unrest over gasoline price hikes do not cease.

"We're horrified at reports that dozens of protesters have been killed in Iran, hundreds injured and over 1,000 arrested since Friday," the human rights organization said Monday. "We're alarmed that authorities have shut down the internet to create an information blackout of their brutal crackdown. We're investigating."

The statement followed an ominous warning from the regime's most powerful military force that a harsh security crackdown could be on the cards.

The protests have spread across the Islamic Republic since Friday, turning political with demonstrators demanding that top clerical leaders step down. At least 100 banks and dozens of buildings and cars have been torched, state media reported.

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The scale of the unrest triggered by announcements of fuel rationing and price rises of at least 50 percent remains unclear as authorities have curbed Internet access to stop the use of social media to organize rallies and disseminate videos.
But it appears to be the most serious unrest since late 2017 when 22 people were reported to have killed in dozens of cities and towns in protests over poor living standards, with some calling on top figures in the Shiite Muslim elite to resign.
President Hassan Rouhani’s government said the gasoline price rises were intended to raise around $2.55 billion a year for extra subsidies to 18 million families — or roughly 60 million Iranians on low incomes.
But many ordinary Iranians angry and in despair over reimposed US sanctions that have helped undermine the government’s promises of more jobs and investment, and authorities are anxious to end the unrest.
“If necessary we will take decisive and revolutionary action against any continued moves to disturb the people’s peace and security,” the Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s heavily armed main security force, said in a statement carried by state media.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday blamed the turmoil on Iran’s opponents and foreign foes, denouncing protesters who attacked public property as “thugs” and “hooligans.”
Some Iranians managed to post social media videos that showed police firing tear gas to disperse protesters. The images could not be verified by Reuters. Authorities said one policeman and a civilian had been killed and 1,000 “rioters” arrested.
“Rioters used knives and guns...A number of security agents and policemen were killed or taken hostage,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a televised news conference.
The struggle of ordinary Iranians to make ends meet became even harder last year when President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers and reimposed sanctions that had been lifted under the accord.
Frustration has grown over a sharp devaluation of Iran’s rial currency as well as spikes in the prices of bread, rice and other staples since Washington began to apply “maximum pressure” on Iran to make tougher nuclear and security concessions.
Many in oil-producing Iran see cheap gasoline as a fundamental right and the price hike sparked worries about a further squeeze on living costs, despite state assurances that the revenue raised would be put to assisting needy families.


Protesters pack Tel Aviv rally against coronavirus cash crisis

Updated 37 min 8 sec ago

Protesters pack Tel Aviv rally against coronavirus cash crisis

  • Event was organized by self-employed, small business and performing artists’ groups angry at coronavirus curbs which have taken away their livelihoods

TEL AVIV: Thousands of Israelis streamed into Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protest Saturday against the government’s handling of economic hardship caused by coronavirus curbs.
About 300 officers were deployed in the square, a traditional protest site, to ensure public order and monitor social distancing regulations, police said.
Many participants wore facemasks but most appeared to be less than the statutory two meters (yards) apart.
Some held banners reading in Hebrew: “Let us breathe” — an echo of worldwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, during a US police arrest.
The event was organized by self-employed, small business and performing artists’ groups angry at coronavirus curbs which have taken away their livelihoods.
Student unions also took part over the large numbers of young people made jobless by closures.
Israel imposed a broad lockdown from the middle of March, allowing only staff deemed essential to go to work and banning public assembly.
Places of entertainment were closed, hitting the leisure industry hard.
Facing public and economic pressure, the government eased restrictions in late May.
But infections have mounted and rules tightened again, including the closure of event venues, clubs, bars, gyms and public pools.
While salaried workers sent on furlough received unemployment benefits, the self-employed said most had been waiting months for promised government aid.
“There is a very grave crisis of confidence between us and the government,” Shai Berman, one of the protest organizers told Israeli public radio ahead of the rally.
“We are part of a very large public which is feeling growing distress and wants to demonstrate and simply does not believe the promises,” he added.
Berman was among activists invited Friday to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and finance ministry officials in a last-minute government effort to stave off the protest.
“He tried, very politely,” Berman said, adding that an aid package presented at the meeting was a start, but flawed.
Netanyahu promised swift implementation.
“We will meet our commitments including hastening the immediate payments that we want to give you,” his office quoted him as telling the activists.
On Friday, the health ministry announced the highest number of coronavirus infections over a 24-hour period, with nearly 1,500 new cases confirmed.
The country of roughly nine million has now registered more than 37,000 cases, including over 350 deaths.