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Officials Try To Soften Impact Of Rising Death Toll In Iran Protests


Protesters carrying away a comrade shot during protests in Shiraz, Iran. November 17, 2019

As the reported death toll form protests in Iran climbs higher, bringing widespread recriminations, some officials appear to be trying to contain the anger by walking back their earlier harsh statements.

Some opposition websites, such as Kalemeh, have reported that over 150 protesters shot dead have been buried in only one cemetery in Tehran. Other reports say over 100 bodies of those shot to death were taken away from a medical center in Shahryar near Tehran.

Kalameh has published an estimate of 366 protesters killed, but its latest figures from the Tehran region might indicate even a higher nationwide toll.

At the same time artists, clerics and political activists have belatedly reacted to the Iranian government's violent suppression of the protest that started on November 15 following a sudden gas price hike, but quickly turned into anti-government demonstrations.

Mohammad Reza Yazdi an IRGC commander in charge of security in Tehran has admitted that some protesters may have been "wrongly targeted and killed" by security forces.

He said due to the chaotic situation "it is not currently possible to confirm or refute such reports with any degree of certainty."

Yazdi's remarks followed reports that said many of those killed during the protest had been shot in the head or chest, showing an intention to kill. However, Yazdi claimed that some protesters were shot from behind by fellow protesters but was not able to substantiate his claim.

Meanwhile, some government officials such as presidential aide Hesamoddin Ashna who had previously branded all protesters as thug and demanded severe punishment, is now saying not all protesters were "rioters." He said "innocent people have been shot to death."

Critics have said on social media that it was too late for such remarks by officials who have already made harsh statements against protesters.

In another development a number of Iranian artists, mainly filmmakers have issued a statement in condemnation of government's violent suppression of the protest. The artists' statement also came following two weeks of silence which was harshly criticized by Iranians on social media.

Yet another belated reaction to the government's violent suppression came from prominent reformist cleric Yousef Sanei who has been harshly criticized by activists for his silence in the face of violence and rising death toll. Sanei cursed those who were involved in violence.

Activists have described belated statements in condemnation of the government as a show of the influence of public opinion on politicians and influential groups.

In the meantime, a series of tweets containing videos showed security forces damaging public property contradicting the government's claims about protesters being involved in arson and destruction.

Anti-riot police is seen in a surveillance camera footage damaging the entrance of a building. Radio Farda cannot verify the time and place of this video, but it is said to be from Shiraz during the recent protests.

In another development, videos have surfaced that show the security forces all-out war-like action against demonstrators in the southern Iranian port city of Mahshahr. These videos show heavy machine guns mounted on pickup trucks or on rooftops firing at protesters.

Conflicting social media reports from the city say hundreds may have been killed by security forces in the marshlands in the city's suburbs. Citizen journalists report of heavy military deployment in Mahshahr. However, these reports are hard to verify.

In this video a resident from Mahshahr region speaking in local Arabic dialect says tanks are entering the town, with helicopters circling above. The voice says "we are not armed".

Human rights watchers have also reported high casualties in the city.

Last week, Iranian news agencies carried pictures that showed a local member of parliament from Mahshahr being silenced by colleagues at the parliament reportedly after revealing facts about the harsh clampdown on protesters in the city.

Member of parliament representing Mahshahr is protesting killing of protesters in the city. November 2019
Member of parliament representing Mahshahr is protesting killing of protesters in the city. November 2019

Meanwhile reports of new arrests made in various cities give rise to the possibility that the number of protesters in prison could be even higher than the 7000 some Iranian parliamentary sources have revealed.

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