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Nov. 19, 2019, 11:35 p.m. EST

More than 100 killed in Iran protests, Amnesty International says

Iran has shut off internet access amid crackdown on widespread demonstrations over gas-price hike

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By Associated Press


ISNA via AP
This photo released by the Iranian Students' News Agency, ISNA, shows cars driving past a scorched public bus following protests in Tehran, Iran, on Sunday.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Days of protests over rising fuel prices and a subsequent government crackdown have killed at least 106 people across Iran, Amnesty International said Tuesday, adding that the real figure may be much higher.

Iran’s government has not released a toll of those arrested, injured or killed in the protests that began Friday and spread quickly across at least 100 cities and towns. But it disputed Amnesty’s report through its mission to the United Nations, calling it “baseless allegations and fabricated figures.”

However, a U.N. agency earlier said it feared the unrest may have killed “a significant number of people.” Amnesty cited “credible reports” for its tally and said it “believes that the real death toll may be much higher, with some reports suggesting as many as 200 have been killed.”

Iranian authorities shut down internet access to the outside world Saturday, an outage has left only state media and government officials able to say what is happening in the nation of 80 million.

State television showed video Tuesday of burned Qurans at a mosque in the suburbs of the capital, Tehran, as well as pro-government rallies, part of its efforts to both demonize and minimize the protests.

Absent in the coverage was an acknowledgment of what sparked the demonstrations. The jump in gasoline prices represents yet another burden on Iranians who have suffered through a painful currency collapse, following President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of the United States from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, and the reimposition of crippling U.S. economic sanctions.

Relative moderate President Hassan Rouhani has promised the fuel price increase will fund new subsidies for poor families. But the decision has unleashed anger among Iranians, like Maryam Kazemi, a 29-year-old accountant in the southern Tehran suburb of Khaniabad, who said the new cost of fuel was “putting pressure on ordinary people.”

“It was a bad decision at a bad time. The economic situation has long been difficult for people, and Rouhani unexpectedly implemented the decision on fuel,” she said.

Amnesty said it gathered its figures from interviewing journalists and human rights activists, then crosschecked the information. In its breakdown, it showed the hardest-hit areas as the western Kermanshah province and its oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan. Many online videos released before the internet outage had shown unrest there.

“Video footage shows security forces using firearms, water cannons and tear gas to disperse protests and beating demonstrators with batons,” Amnesty said. “Images of bullet casings left on the ground afterwards, as well as the resulting high death toll, indicate that they used live ammunition.”

Amnesty, citing eyewitnesses corroborated by video footage, said snipers also shot into crowds of people from rooftops and, in one case, a helicopter.

So far, scattered reports in state-run and semiofficial media have reported only six deaths.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned” about reports of live ammunition being used against demonstrators. It also urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully.

“We are especially alarmed that the use of live ammunition has allegedly caused a significant number of deaths across the country,” spokesman Rupert Colville said in a statement.

Colville added that it has been “extremely difficult” to verify the overall death toll.

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