Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on members of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to take urgent action to address the "brutal crackdown" by Iranian security forces on anti-government protests that rocked Tehran and more than 100 other cities and towns late last year.
Iranian authorities have failed to hold security forces accountable for "excessive and unlawful use of lethal force" in dealing with the weeklong protests that began on November 15 following a government decision to raise fuel prices. The demonstrations turned political as young and working-class protesters demanded clerical leaders step down.
More than three months later, officials have failed to announce the total number of deaths and arrests during the protests, HRW said in a statement on Tuesday.
"Iranian authorities have systematically repressed dissent for decades, and they are now confronting popular protests with an astonishing level of violence," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at the New York-based human rights watchdog.
"Principled international voices should send an unequivocal message that Iran cannot get away with killing protesters," Page added.
HRW said that interviews with victims and witnesses, a review of photos and videos from the demonstrations, and satellite imagery analysis "strongly suggest" that unlawful lethal force was used on at least three occasions while security forces responded to protesters who were blocking roads, or in some cases throwing stones and attempting to take over public buildings.
People interviewed and videos posted on social media indicate that in these three instances people who were fleeing the scene of protests were shot, the group said. One of these cases can be seen in a video posted online on November 17, recorded from a highway overlooking Taleghani Street in Tehran.
Due to a near-total Internet shutdown maintained by the authorities for five days and threats against families of victims, documenting the full extent of the crackdown, including the total number of people killed, has been difficult, according to HRW.
It quoted informed sources as saying that the authorities had banned families from conducting interviews with media and threatened them with retaliation if they do.
Amnesty International has estimated that at least 304 people were killed and thousands wounded as the authorities "crushed protests using lethal force."
Iranian officials have dismissed such figures as "lies."
A member of parliament has put the number at 170, while official media reported the deaths of at least five members of the security forces.
One parliament member said about 7,000 people were detained.