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Iran Minister Downplays November Protest Death Toll In First Official Acknowledgement

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli. FILE PHOTO

Nearly seven months after Iran’s security forces killed several hundreds protesters in November 2019, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said implicitly for the first time on Saturday May 30 that the number of those killed was around 200.

While Iran has been hiding the actual number of those killed in the violent crackdown that followed the nationwide protests in November, independent news agencies and human rights watchers put the number at up to 1,500.

A short while after the crackdown, U.S. Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook said that Iranian security forces had killed around 1,000 protesters in November.

Rahmani who was taking advantage of the ongoing protests in the United States to portray violence as something normal that can happen anywhere in the world, did not even give precise figures about the death toll. Some Iranian Twitter users have pointed out the way Iran has been taking advantage of foreign developments to justify its violence.

The minister appeared on a TV program Saturday night to say "around 40 to 45 people, that is about 20 percent of the death toll were killed with weapons not issued by the government," but about 80 percent were killed by government forces.

This means he is still insisting on the government propaganda that some protesters killed other protesters with guns that did not belong to government forces; something officials tried to argue during the crisis in November.

As verified by international human rights watchdogs, Iranian forces even used tanks and machine guns against protesters and shot many in the head at point blank range. Human rights organizations even characterized the outcome of the crackdown at places such as Mahshahr in Khuzestan Province and Shahryar near Tehran as "massacre."

Amnesty International announced last week that at least 304 protesters were killed in 37 Iranian cities, stressing that these include only the cases that are accounted for and the actual number is probably much higher.

According to Amnesty, the biggest number of known deaths were in the underprivileged areas around Tehran where 163 confirmed deaths have been registered, followed by 57 in Khuzestan and 30 in Kermanshah province.

Reuters in December quoted three sources close to Khamenei's inner circle as well as another source as having said that some 1,500 Iranians were killed during the November protests. Khamenei had told the security forces in a public meeting: "Do whatever is necessary to stop" the protests.

Unrest began in mid-November when the government increased the price of gasoline by 200 percent without prior notice. When nationwide protest broke out, the government resorted to one of its most violent crackdowns and shut down the Internet to keep everything concealed from the public.

Rahmani said during the program that "All U.S. media and the opposition including monarchists and Mojahedin-e Khalq and ISIS were training the protesters for armed struggle." He added that they aimed to start a civil war in Iran.

Earlier, when asked why demonstrators were shot in the head, Rahmani said in cold blood, "We have also shot some in the leg." The answer was harshly criticized by some Iranian lawmakers.

According to Amnesty International, most protesters were shot in the head or the upper part of their chest and this shows that security forces had a shoot to kill order.

On his TV interview, however, Rahmani claimed that the armed forces were told not to confront the people with weapons."

The government’s stayed silence for nearly seven months despite criticism by Iranian and international media and political figures. Even now the minister has implicitly hinted at a number, there are no names or details about the killings.

Meanwhile Rahmani Fazli criticized the U.S. government for sanctioning him for his part in suppressing the November protests. The U.S. Department of Treasury and many international observers have said that Rahmani was the one who had ordered the security forces to kill the protesters.

The U.S. has also sanctioned Police Chief Hossein Ashtari and some other high-ranking commanders for "their role in the massacres in November 2019."