Iran and U.S. Mark Anniversary of Massive Protests

On November 15, Iran marked the one-year anniversary of the deadliest political unrest since the Green Movement demonstrations after the disputed 2009 presidential election. The regime did not officially comment, but five days before the anniversary, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pardoned 157 dissidents and political prisoners who had been convicted of various charges, including propaganda against the system, assembly and collusion, and taking part in riots. The United Nations estimated that 7,000 had been detained during the four-day protests. Many reportedly had faced interrogation and torture, including sexual abuse and electrical shock, according to human rights groups.

In 2019, tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in more than 100 cities over an overnight hike in gas prices. The unrest quickly evolved into the challenges of the regime and its leaders. Protesters chanted anti-government slogans, such as “Death to Khamenei,” and burned posters and public images of the supreme leader.

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The government claimed that 731 banks, 140 government buildings, 70 gas stations and 50 security force bases were destroyed during the demonstrations. Security forces responded with water cannons, tear gas and live ammunition. At least 300 were killed, human rights groups reported. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed up to 1,500 were killed. The higher toll was first reported by Reuters, which said that it received the figure from three Iranian interior ministry officials.   

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On the anniversary in 2020, Pompeo claimed thousands remained in prison. “The world should understand that there are no moderates to empower in such an evil regime; only officials who defend and seek to profit from this machine of cruelty,” he said, in a statement. Later in the week, Pompeo also announced sanctions on two Revolutionary Guards for their roles in the crackdown. Amnesty International marked the anniversary with a new website featuring videos of the protests, names of the adults and children killed, and details of the government cover-up, including an internet shutdown for five days to prevent images from spreading over social media. In Tehran, however, the media praised the supreme leader for leniency. Javan, a hardline paper, praised Khamenei for showing “Islamic compassion” to the “leaders of the riots” ahead of the anniversary.  The following are statements from Secretary Pompeo and Amnesty International.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement on Nov. 15, 2020: “On November 15, 2019 and in the week that followed, brave Iranians took to the streets of more than 200 cities across Iran to protest four decades of mismanagement by a corrupt regime that squandered its people’s wealth on terrorism abroad and oppression at home. As the protesters exercised their freedom of expression, the regime responded by expressing its radical ideology of indiscriminate violence and terror. In doing so, the regime once again revealed its true nature and squandered any remaining claim to legitimacy in the eyes of the Iranian people. The regime killed as many as 1,500 Iranians, including at least 23 children.

“Tragically, the regime’s reign of terror continues to this day. The regime ignores its own laws and international obligations to the rights of the Iranian people. Thousands of protesters remain in prison, where they are reportedly subjected to flogging, electrical shocks, starvation, beatings, sexual assault and rape, and other acts of torture. Family members of victims are thrown in jail for advocating on behalf of their loved ones. The world should understand that there are no moderates to empower in such an evil regime; only officials who defend and seek to profit from this machine of cruelty. We hope all governments join our call for the Iranian regime to immediately release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.

“The Iranian regime tried to hide the evidence of its brutal crackdown through censorship, intimidation, and the digital darkness of Internet shutdowns, and still refuses to allow independent investigations into the killings it perpetrated during that fateful week. But we will never forget the regime’s victims. The United States will continue to promote accountability by announcing further actions against the agents of repression later this week to bring a measure of justice to the Iranian people, the longest-suffering victims of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Pompeo in a statement on Nov. 18, 2020: “One year ago, the Iranian regime killed as many as 148 Iranian civilians in Mahshahr, while imposing digital darkness to hide evidence of their savage crackdown on last November’s protests in that city.  Both protesters and bystanders were targeted by snipers on rooftops, tracked down and surrounded by armored vehicles, and sprayed with machine-gun fire.  When protesters sought refuge in nearby marshlands, regime forces set fire to the area and then shot those trying to escape.  When families tried to recover the remains of their loved ones, Iranian authorities charged them hundreds of dollars for each bullet that had pierced their bodies.
“Today, I am announcing the designation of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Heidar Abbaszadeh and IRGC Colonel Reza Papi pursuant to Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2020 for their involvement, by operation of command responsibility, in gross violations of human rights, namely the flagrant denial of the right to life in connection with the violent suppression of protests by security forces in November 2019 in Khuzestan province.  These individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.  Iranian Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi is also being designated by the Department of Treasury under E.O. 13553, which authorizes sanctions for entities that commit serious human rights abuses against the Iranian people.
“Additionally, today the United States is designating the Islamic Revolution Mostazafan Foundation, 51 associated entities, and 10 associated individuals pursuant to E.O. 13876, which authorizes sanctions for entities affiliated with the Supreme Leader’s Office.  This organization, which claims to be the “Foundation of the Oppressed,” is in reality a key agent of regime oppression and corruption, and many of its assets were originally confiscated from Iranians, especially from religious minorities such as Baha’is and Jews.  The foundation is involved with human rights abusers, those involved with the regime’s support for terrorism, and organizations involved in the brutal killings last November.  This action deprives the regime’s machinery of oppression the funds needed to execute its depraved agenda.  For more information, see the Department of Treasury’s press release.  
“Nations who believe in supporting the freedoms of expression and association should condemn Iran’s egregious human rights violations, and reaffirm respect for the dignity and human rights and fundamental freedoms of every person by imposing consequences on the regime as we have, today.  The Iranian regime maintains its grip on power through brute force, with no concern for the wellbeing of the Iranian people.  The United States will continue to stand with the Iranian people and demand the regime treat its own people with the respect and dignity they deserve.”


Amnesty International in an announcement on Nov. 16, 2020: “On the anniversary of the deadliest day of the protests, Amnesty International is launching a new microsite, A web of impunity: The killings Iran’s internet shutdown hid, documenting how the lethal crackdown that left at least 304 people dead was hidden from the world.

“’When news of the deadly crackdown began to emerge from Iran last November, the world was shocked by the brutal violence of the security forces. The authorities deliberately blocked internet access inside Iran, hiding the true extent of the horrendous human rights violations that they were carrying out across the country,’ said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“’The government thought they could silence the population by taking the country offline, but the Iranian people were determined to tell the world the truth. Our new website is a tribute to the courage of everyone who captured on camera the scenes of violence that the authorities wanted to keep hidden.’”

“The authorities deliberately blocked internet access inside Iran, hiding the true extent of the horrendous human rights violations that they were carrying out across the country. 

“The microsite – a joint investigation between Amnesty International and The Hertie School, in partnership with the Internet Outage Detection and Analysis (IODA) project – features more than 100 verified videos from 31 cities, and reveals the repeated use of firearms, water cannons and tear gas by Iran’s security forces against unarmed protesters and bystanders.

“To date, no one has been criminally investigated or held accountable for the killings. Amnesty International is again calling on member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council to mandate an inquiry into the unlawful killings to ensure those responsible for ordering, planning and carrying out the crimes are brought to justice in fair trials.”

Human Rights Watch in a press release on November 17: “Iranian authorities have failed to provide any real measure of accountability for the violent crackdown against widespread protests that began a year ago, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The protests, which began over an abrupt fuel price increase on November 15, 2019 and lasted for a week, transformed into a broader expression of popular discontent with the government’s repression and perceived corruption. The government imposed a near-total internet shutdown from November 15 to 19 and embarked on the most brutal crackdown against protesters in decades.

“‘One year after the November crackdown, Iranian authorities have avoided any measure of accountability and continue to harass the families of those killed during the protest,’ said Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. ‘Families of hundreds of victims, most of them from the more vulnerable segments of Iranian society, deserve to see those responsible for the serious rights violations held accountable.’

“Due to the internet shutdown and authorities’ threats against victims’ families, documenting the full extent of the crackdown, including the total number of people killed, has been difficult. Through interviews with victims and witnesses, a review of photos and videos from the protests, and satellite imagery analysis, Human Rights Watch concluded that security forces used unlawful lethal force on at least three occasions across the country. The total number of such cases is most likely higher.

“People interviewed and videos on social media indicated that in several instances, security forces shot people who were fleeing the scene of protests. Also, family members and people with close knowledge of cases of people killed said that victims died from gunshots to the head and/or chest.”


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