At least 208 people have been killed in recent protests across Iran, according to Amnesty International.
The human rights organisation said the figures were based on credible reports, interviews with sources inside and outside Iran including victims’ relatives, journalists and human rights activists.
The actual death toll is probably even higher, the UK-based organisation said.
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“This alarming death toll is further evidence that Iran’s security forces went on a horrific killing spree that left at least 208 people dead in less than a week,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s research and advocacy director for Middle East and North Africa.
Mr Luther told The Independent that Amnesty has been able to talk to dozens of people inside and outside the country and their testimonies, as well as video footage that they have verified, point to a consistent pattern of security forces shooting at unarmed protesters, sometimes at close range.
An internet shutdown in Iran made it difficult for outside groups to document the death toll and for journalists to paint a full picture of what was happening on the ground in dozens of cities.
But now that the internet is being gradually restored, more images are coming out of the country that show the extent of violence in the past week.
Families of victims have been threatened and warned not to speak to the media, or to hold funeral ceremonies for their loved ones, and some families are being forced to make extortionate payments to have the bodies of their loved ones returned to them, Amnesty reported.
Iranian state television has acknowledged the deaths of a number of people during the protests. But Iranian officials pushed back on the death toll announced by Amnesty and other human rights organisations.
“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 a spokesperson for Iran’s mission to the UN in New York.
Iranian officials have accused “anti-Revolutionary” groups connected to the US, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to take over people’s peaceful protests and turn them into violent riots to threaten national security and the existence of the system.
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Officials said they had arrested “key elements” responsible for shooting at people, government offices and police forces during the protests. And state television showed a video of armed men with covered faces in a location that looked like a park.
A senior member of a reformist political party in Iran, who did not want to use his name for security reasons, told The Independent that protesters were mostly of lower income demographics that are angry at the government and feel they have nothing to lose. “They take to the streets and are not afraid of violence, and security forces are also more violent towards them and crack down brutally,” he said.
Some members of Parliament have criticised the violent crackdown of protests and called for a probe into the events.
Parvaneh Salahshoori, reformist member of Parliament said: “People have voiced their protest but they responded to them with bullets and arrests. A number of rioters were put together with the people who were only protesting their economic situation. Cracking down on people has been compared to the World War. And in the name of religion, killing and torture were ordered on state television.”
Protests erupted in dozens of cities across Iran on 15 November after a sudden hike in fuel prices was announced by the government. Demonstrations quickly turned violent and internet connection was cut off for the majority of Iranians soon after protests started.