Iran has been intentionally concealing the extent of the repressive measures taken against those who took part in days of unrest over fuel-price hikes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says in a new report.
More than 140 people were killed and up to 7,000 were detained after unrest broke out on the evening of November 25 in more than 100 locations across Iran, according to reports by various human rights groups and an Iranian lawmaker.
Iranian authorities, who have historically underreported casualty and detention figures during times of protest, have rejected those numbers.
In a November 27 report titled Iran: Deliberate Coverup of Brutal Crackdown, HRW says that almost two weeks after the protests were put down, authorities have yet to publish any definitive official death toll for the unrest triggered by the government's decision to sharply raise government-set gasoline prices.
The New York-based watchdog calls on the Iranian government to "immediately announce the number of deaths, arrests, and detentions from the recent protests and permit an independent inquiry into alleged abuses."
The report says that authorities have responded to the protests by calling demonstrators “rioters” and threatening them with the death penalty.
"Video footage on social media clearly shows security forces using firearms targeting protesters," the report says, adding that many social-media reports indicate that relatives and family members have not been allowed "to get the bodies of their loved ones and have been restricted in their ability to perform burial services."
“Twelve days after protests broke out in Iran, the authorities have refused to provide an accurate death toll and instead threatened detainees with death,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“Keeping families in the dark about the fate of their loved ones while ratcheting up an atmosphere of fear and retribution is a deliberate government strategy to stifle dissent,” said Page.
Iranian lawmaker Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, who sits on the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, was quoted as saying authorities arrested more than 7,000 people, in what HRW said was an indication of the widespread nature of the crackdown.
The report also notes that Iranian authorities in mid-November shut down the Internet in an attempt to prevent protesters' communication with the outside world, and access has yet to be fully restored.
HRW cautions the Iranian government that international human rights legislation to which Tehran is a party provides for the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and reminds Tehran that "deliberate use of lethal force is permissible only when it is strictly necessary to protect life."
The report calls on Iran to establish an "independent administrative or prosecutorial process" to promptly investigate all incidents of security forces using firearms to kill or injure people, as required under the UN Basic Principles.
HRW also urges Iranian authorities to provide families with information on the location of their detained relatives, and "ensure that detainees are informed promptly of any charges against them and have prompt access to legal counsel and family members."