Iran: Around 4000 people arrested and over 140 killed as protests continue amidst Internet shutdown


Iran has cracked down viciously against widescale protests that began after a 50% fuel hike on 15 November 2019, with news reports putting the death toll over 140 and the number of those arrested around 4000 in dozens of cities across the country as the protests spread. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls on the Iranian authorities to respect freedom of expression and association, including by allowing protesters to take part in peaceful demonstrations and ensuring full access to the Internet.

The Iranian Government has reported that thousands of people have been arrested and warned citizens, including by text message, to stay away from protests at risk of arrest. Demonstrations are also calling for an end to corruption, unemployment and inequality. Reports confirmed that those arrested in the past week range from over 2000 to up to 4000 persons, and local sources report that many students and activists are among them. The death toll has mounted above 140 as of 25 November, according to human rights NGOs. A local source told GCHR that the authorities have refused to return the bodies of protesters who were killed to their families.

The Internet was shut down across Iran starting on 16 November until at least 21 November, with 95% of the population unable to access the Internet. Internet access remains sporadic apart from government authorised websites.

On 22 November, four United Nations experts issued a statement expressing deep concern “at reports of killings and injuries, and that the authorities may have used excessive force against those participating in the protests.” They also noted that the Internet shutdown “clearly has a political purpose: to suppress the right of Iranians to access information and to communicate at a time of rising protest.”

Iran has a history of silencing protesters, journalists and human rights defenders who criticise the government. Many human rights defenders are already in prison serving decades in prison in some cases.

In the past year, numerous women activists were arrested after they took part in the #WhiteWednesdays campaign against forced hijab laws. In July and August 2019, four women were sentenced to up to 24 years in prison for their peaceful protests, and in March 2019, prominent Iranian lawyer and defender of women's rights Nasrin Sotoudeh to 148 lashes and 33 years in prison for defending women arrested for protesting against Iran's headscarf laws, as well as for her own protests against the death penalty and judicial corruption.  

GCHR urges the authorities in Iran to:

  1. End the violent reprisals against protesters, including murder, and allow their families to receive their bodies;
  2. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights activists and peaceful protesters in Iran;
  3. Stop arresting protesters, activists and human rights defenders as a result of their participation in peaceful human rights activities, including women’s rights advocacy, and allow them to peacefully express themselves;
  4. Restore full access to the Internet across Iran and refrain from Internet shutdowns during times of protest; and
  5. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Iran are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.

The picture courtesy of the Center for Human Rights in Iran.