Iran’s leader ordered a crackdown on unrest – ‘Do whatever it takes to end it’
DECEMBER 23, 2019
(Reuters) – After days of protests across Iran last month, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared impatient. Gathering his top security and government officials together, he issued an order: Do whatever it takes to stop them.
That order, confirmed by three sources close to the supreme leader’s inner circle and a fourth official, set in motion the bloodiest crackdown on protesters since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
About 1,500 people were killed during less than two weeks of unrest that started on Nov. 15. The toll, provided to Reuters by three Iranian interior ministry officials, included at least 17 teenagers and about 400 women as well as some members of the security forces and police.
The toll of 1,500 is significantly higher than figures from international human rights groups and the United States. A Dec. 16 report by Amnesty International said the death toll was at least 304. The U.S. State Department, in a statement to Reuters, said it estimates that many hundreds of Iranians were killed, and has seen reports that number could be over 1,000.
The figures provided to Reuters, said two of the Iranian officials who provided them, are based on information gathered from security forces, morgues, hospitals, and coroner’s offices.
That order, confirmed by three sources close to the supreme leader’s inner circle a
The government spokesman’s office declined to comment on whether the orders came from Khamenei and on the Nov. 17 meeting. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
In a statement Monday following the publication of this article, a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council described the death toll figure as “fake news,” according to semi-official Tasnim news agency.
What began as scattered protests over a surprise increase in gasoline prices quickly spread into one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s clerical rulers since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
By Nov. 17, the second day, the unrest had reached the capital Tehran, with people calling for an end to the Islamic Republic and the downfall of its leaders. Protesters burned pictures of Khamenei and called for the return of Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of the toppled Shah of Iran, according to videos posted on social media and eyewitnesses.
That evening at his official residence in a fortified compound in central Tehran, Khamenei met with senior officials, including security aides, President Hassan Rouhani and members of his cabinet.
At the meeting, described to Reuters by the three sources close to his inner circle, the 80-year-old leader, who has final say over all state matters in the country, raised his voice and expressed criticism of the handling of the unrest. He was also angered by the burning of his image and the destruction of a statue of the republic’s late founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
“The Islamic Republic is in danger. Do whatever it takes to end it. You have my order,” the supreme leader told the group, one of the sources said.
Khamenei said he would hold the assembled officials responsible for the consequences of the protests if they didn’t immediately stop them. Those who attended the meeting agreed the protesters aimed to bring down the regime.
“The enemies wanted to topple the Islamic Republic and immediate reaction was needed,” one of the sources said.
The fourth official, who was briefed on the Nov. 17 meeting, added that Khamenei made clear the demonstrations required a forceful response.
“Our Imam,” said the official, referring to Khamenei, “only answers to God. He cares about people and the Revolution. He was very firm and said those rioters should be crushed.”
Tehran’s clerical rulers have blamed “thugs” linked to the regime’s opponents in exile and the country’s main foreign foes, namely the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, for stirring up unrest. Khamenei has described the unrest as the work of a “very dangerous conspiracy.”
A Dec. 3 report on Iran’s state television confirmed that security forces had fatally shot citizens, saying “some rioters were killed in clashes.” Iran has given no official death toll and has rejected figures as “speculative.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the death anniversary of the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran, Iran, June 4, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS
“The aim of our enemies was to endanger the existence of the Islamic Republic by igniting riots in Iran,” said the commander-in-chief of the elite Revolutionary Guards Corps, Hossein Salami, last month, according to Iranian media.
The Revolutionary Guards declined to comment for this report.
Iran’s interior minister said on Nov. 27 more than 140 government sites had been set on fire along with hundreds of banks and dozens of petrol stations, while 50 bases used by security forces were also attacked, according to remarks reported by Iran’s state news agency IRNA. The minister said up to 200,000 people took part in the unrest nationwide.
“SMELL OF GUNFIRE AND SMOKE”
For decades, Islamic Iran has tried to expand its influence across the Middle East, from Syria to Iraq and Lebanon, by investing Tehran’s political and economic capital and backing militias. But now it faces pressure at home and abroad.
In recent months, from the streets of Baghdad to Beirut, protesters have been voicing anger at Tehran, burning its flag and chanting anti-Iranian regime slogans. At home, the daily struggle to make ends meet has worsened since the United States reimposed sanctions after withdrawing last year from the nuclear deal that Iran negotiated with world powers in 2015.
The protests erupted after a Nov. 15 announcement on state media that gas prices would rise by as much as 200% and the revenue would be used to help needy families.
Within hours, hundreds of people poured into the streets in places including the northeastern city of Mashhad, the southeastern province of Kerman and the southwestern province of Khuzestan bordering Iraq, according to state media. That night, a resident of the city Ahvaz in Khuzestan described the scene by telephone to Reuters.
“Riot police are out in force and blocking main streets,” the source said. “I heard shooting.” Videos later emerged on social media and state television showing footage of clashes in Ahvaz and elsewhere between citizens and security forces.
The protests reached more than 100 cities and towns and turned political. Young and working-class demonstrators demanded clerical leaders step down. In many cities, a similar chant rang out: “They live like kings, people get poorer,” according to videos on social media and witnesses.
By Nov. 18 in Tehran, riot police appeared to be randomly shooting at protesters in the street “with the smell of gunfire and smoke everywhere,” said a female Tehran resident reached by telephone. People were falling down and shouting, she added, while others sought refuge in houses and shops.
The mother of a 16-year-old boy described holding his body, drenched in blood, after he was shot during protests in a western Iranian town on Nov. 19. Speaking on condition of anonymity, she described the scene in a telephone interview.
“I heard people saying: ‘He is shot, he is shot,’” said the mother. “I ran toward the crowd and saw my son, but half of his head was shot off.” She said she urged her son, whose first name was Amirhossein, not to join the protests, but he didn’t listen.
Iranian authorities deployed lethal force at a far quicker pace from the start than in other protests in recent years, according to activists and details revealed by authorities. In 2009, when millions protested against the disputed re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an estimated 72 people were killed. And when Iran faced waves of protests over economic hardships in 2017 and 2018, the death toll was about 20 people, officials said.
Khamenei, who has ruled Iran for three decades, turned to his elite forces to put down the recent unrest — the Revolutionary Guards and its affiliated Basij religious militia.
A senior member of the Revolutionary Guards in western Kermanshah province said the provincial governor handed down instructions at a late-night emergency meeting at his office on Nov. 18.
“We had orders from top officials in Tehran to end the protests, the Guards member said, recounting the governor’s talk. “No more mercy. They are aiming to topple the Islamic Republic. But we will eradicate them.” The governor’s office declined to comment.
As security forces fanned out across the country, security advisors briefed Khamenei on the scale of the unrest, according to the three sources familiar with the talks at his compound.
The interior minister presented the number of casualties and arrests. The intelligence minister and head of the Revolutionary Guards focused on the role of opposition groups. When asked about the interior and intelligence minister’s role in the meeting, the government spokesman’s office declined to comment.
Khamenei, the three sources said, was especially concerned with anger in small working-class towns, whose lower-income voters have been a pillar of support for the Islamic Republic. Their votes will count in February parliamentary elections, a litmus test of the clerical rulers’ popularity since U.S. President Donald Trump exited Iran’s nuclear deal — a step that has led to an 80% collapse in Iran’s oil exports since last year.
Squeezed by sanctions, Khamenei has few resources to tackle high inflation and unemployment. According to official figures, the unemployment rate is around 12.5% overall. But it is about double that for Iran’s millions of young people, who accuse the establishment of economic mismanagement and corruption. Khamenei and other officials have called on the judiciary to step up its fight against corruption.
“BLOOD ON THE STREETS”
Officials in four provinces said the message was clear — failure to stamp out the unrest would encourage people to protest in the future.
A local official in Karaj, a working-class city near the capital, said there were orders to use whatever force was necessary to end the protests immediately. “Orders came from Tehran,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Push them back to their homes, even by shooting them.” Local government officials declined to comment.
Residents of Karaj said they came under fire from rooftops as Revolutionary Guards and police on motorcycles brandished machine guns. “There was blood everywhere. Blood on the streets,” said one resident by telephone. Reuters could not independently verify that account.
In Mahshahr county, in the strategically important Khuzestan province in southwest Iran, Revolutionary Guards in armored vehicles and tanks sought to contain the demonstrations. State TV said security forces opened fire on “rioters” hiding in the marshes. Rights groups said they believe Mahshahr had one of the highest protest death tolls in Iran, based on what they heard from locals.
“The next day when we went there, the area was full of bodies of protesters, mainly young people. The Guards did not let us take the bodies,” the local official said, estimating that “dozens” were killed.
The U.S. State Department has said it has received videos of the Revolutionary Guards opening fire without warning on protesters in Mahshahr. And that when protesters fled to nearby marshlands, the Guards pursued them and surrounded them with machine guns mounted on trucks, spraying the protesters with bullets and killing at least 100 Iranians.
Iran’s authorities dispute the U.S. account. Iranian officials have said security forces in Mahshahr confronted “rioters” who they described as a security threat to petrochemical complexes and to a key energy route that, if blocked, would have created a crisis in the country.
A security official told Reuters that the reports about Mahshahr are “exaggerated and not true” and that security forces were defending “people and the country’s energy facilities in the city from sabotage by enemies and rioters.”
In Isfahan, an ancient city of two million people in central Iran, the government’s vow to help low-income families with money raised from higher gas prices failed to reassure people like Behzad Ebrahimi. He said his 21-year-old nephew, Arshad Ebrahimi, was fatally shot during the crackdown.
“Initially they refused to give us the body and wanted us to bury him with others killed in the protests,” Ebrahimi said. “Eventually we buried him ourselves, but under the heavy presence of security forces.” Rights activists confirmed the events. Reuters was unable to get a comment from the government or the local governor on the specifics of the account.
Editing by Michael Georgy, Cassell Bryan-Low and Jason Szep
Amnesty International calls on the Iranian authorities to release Kurdish civil society activist Zahra Mohammadi immediately
Please find attached and copied below an urgent action Amnesty International issued today on Kurdish civil society activist Zahra Mohammadi, aged 29, who has been arbitrarily detained since her arrest in Sanandaj, Kurdistan province, Iran, on 23 May 2019.
She is charged with national security offences in relation to her civil society work empowering marginalized members of Iran’s Kurdish minority.
Amnesty International calls on the Iranian authorities to release Zahra Mohammadi immediately and unconditionally as she is a prisoner of conscience detailed solely for her peaceful civil society activism.
The urgent action is available on the Amnesty International website at the following link:https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde13/1390/2019/en/
URGENT ACTIONKURDISH ACTIVIST ARBITRARILY DETAINEDKurdish civil society activist Zahra Mohammadi, aged 29, has been arbitrarily detained since her arrest in Sanandaj, Kurdistan province, Iran, on 23 May 2019. She is charged with national security offences in relation to her civil society work empowering marginalized members of Iran’s Kurdish minority.TAKE ACTION: WRITE AN APPEAL IN YOUR OWN WORDS OR USE THIS MODEL LETTERProsecutor General of Sanandaj Mohammad Jabbaric/o Permanent Mission of Iran to the UNChemin du Petit-Saconnex 281209 Geneva, SwitzerlandDear Mr Mohmmad Jabbari,Zahra Mohammadi, a Kurdish civil society activist, has been accused of co-operating with Kurdish opposition groups and charged with national security offences for her peaceful activities empowering members of Iran’s marginalized Kurdish community, including through teaching the Kurdish language. On 18 September 2019, without prior notice to her lawyers or family, Zahra Mohammadi was transferred to Branch One of the Revolutionary Court of Sanandaj for a hearing which was subsequently postponed.On 23 May 2019, Zahra Mohammadi was arrested in her home by plain-clothes agents from the Ministry of Intelligence and then held in solitary confinement at an undisclosed location until 31 May, when she was transferred to Sanandaj prison and her family were informed of her whereabouts. During a subsequent family visit, Zahra Mohammadi said that she had been pressured to provide a forced “confession” during those eight days in secret detention. From early June until early July 2019, she had ongoing contact with her family. From 6 July to 16 September 2019, Zahra Mohammadi was held in incommunicado detention and her family was denied all information about her despite multiple attempts to learn what had happened to her. After this period of incommunicado detention ended, Zahra Mohamamdi was able to tell her family that during that time, she was taken to a Ministry of Intelligence facility each day for hours-long interrogation sessions and again put under intense pressure to “confess” that she had been co-operating with Kurdish opposition groups, which she denied. She said that her interrogators threatened to arrest her family members if she did not agree to work for the Ministry of Intelligence and sign a pre-written “confession”. She has met with her lawyers just once, nearly four months after her arrest, and after the second round of interrogations during incommunicado detention ended.Zahra Mohammadi is in poor health. She currently has a stomach-related illness. She also has a pre-existing digestive condition that requires medication, which she has been unable to take in prison.I urge you to release Zahra Mohammadi immediately and unconditionally as she is a prisoner of conscience detailed solely for her peaceful civil society activism. Pending her release, please ensure that she is protected from torture and other ill-treatment and can receive regular visits from her lawyer and family, as well as adequate medical care, including any specialized treatment she may need.Yours sincerely,ADDITIONAL INFORMATIONOn 18 September 2019, without any prior notice to her lawyers, Zahra Mohammadi was transferred to Branch One of the Revolutionary Court of Sanandaj. Her lawyer and family were alerted that she was in court, and promptly arrived to protest the hearing taking place without prior notice. Her court session was subsequently postponed to a later date, though no further hearings have taken place since and the court has sent the case back to the office of the prosecutor for further investigations. She has met with her lawyers just once, nearly four months after her arrest, and after the second round of interrogations during incommunicado detention ended on 16 September.During the period she was held in incommunicado detention and subjected to interrogations for over two months without access to a lawyer, Zahra Mohammadi’s family made numerous attempts with different government offices in Sanandaj to learn what had happened to her. During one visit to the Ministry of Intelligence office, her family was permitted to speak over the phone with Zahra Mohammadi’s interrogator. According to information received by Amnesty International, the interrogator told her family that Zahra Mohammadi was being denied contact with her family to put her under greater pressure to sign documents and agree to work for the ministry of intelligence and that, once she had done so, she would again be able to see her family.Since being held in incommunicado detention, Zahra Mohammadi has experienced a stomach-related illness for which the prison doctor prescribed medication, but she has said that the medication makes her nauseous and that her illness continues. She also has a pre-existing digestive condition which requires a special diet and medication. Since detention, she has neither been able to follow the special diet nor take her medication. Her family has requested she be transferred to hospital for examinations, but no response has been given to them.Zahra Mohmmmadi is the director of the Nojin Cultural Association, whose activities include teaching the Kurdish language and literature and other civil society activities. Prior to her 23 May 2019 arrest, Zahra Mohammadi had been subjected to several lengthy interrogations by the ministry of intelligence. The last took place on 8 March 2019, when she was interrogated for eight hours without the presence of a lawyer.Ethnic minorities in Iran, including Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen, face entrenched discrimination, curtailing their access to education, employment and adequate housing. Continued economic neglect of regions with large minority populations has exacerbated poverty and marginalization. The Persian language is the sole medium of instruction in primary and secondary education in Iran.PREFERRED LANGUAGE TO ADDRESS TARGET: Persian, EnglishYou can also write in your own language.PLEASE TAKE ACTION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE UNTIL: 25 December 2019.Please check with the Amnesty office in your country if you wish to send appeals after the deadline.NAME AND PREFERRED PRONOUN: Zahra Mohammadi (she/her)
World Bank: Iran Likely to Suffer Worse Recession Than Previously Thought
June 05, 2019 7:40 PM
By: Michael Lipin
WASHINGTON —The World Bank says Iran is likely to experience an even worse recession this year than previously thought, as U.S. sanctions largely choke off oil exports that have been Tehran’s main revenue source.
In its latest Global Economic Prospects report published Wednesday, the Washington-based institution that provides loans to countries said it expects Iran’s Gross Domestic Product to shrink by 4.5% this year, a steeper contraction than its earlier estimate of negative 3.6% GDP growth for 2019.
“The oil industry is an important part of Iran’s economy, and its oil production is clearly going to drop because of the new U.S. sanctions,” said Patrick Clawson, research director for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in a VOA Persian interview on Wednesday.
The Trump administration imposed a total, unilateral ban on Iranian oil exports on May 2 as part of its campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran to negotiate an end to its perceived malign behaviors. It had issued sanctions waivers to eight of Iran’s oil customers in November to allow them to keep importing Iranian crude for six months, but later said it would not renew those waivers and would require those customers to reduce such imports to zero.
U.S. economist Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore told VOA Persian in another Wednesday interview that Iran’s internal economic problems also are to blame for its worsening recession. “Iran is very corrupt, has very little economic freedom, and it’s hard to start a business there because Iran is not really a free market or liberal economy,” Hanke said.
Transparency International, a Berlin-based civil society organization that monitors global corruption, has ranked Iran 138 out of 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index.
Iran’s other low global economic rankings include 155 out of 180 nations in the Economic Freedom Index of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy institute, and 128 out of 190 governments in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index.
The World Bank’s new report also said Iran’s year-on-year inflation rate has risen sharply from about 10% in the middle of last year to about 52% in April. It said the depreciation of Iran’s rial since May 2018, when the U.S. announced it would re-impose sanctions on Iran, has contributed to the rising inflation. The rial’s slump versus the dollar in Iran’s unofficial currency market has made dollar-denominated imports more expensive for Iranians.
Clawson said Iran’s inflation is high primarily because it is relying on printing money to finance its spending. “The Iranian government is not bringing in enough revenue to pay for its expenses, so it is borrowing money from the banking system to cover the difference, and that is driving inflation,” he said.
Hanke, who says he is the only economist outside Iran to measure its inflation with high frequency, told VOA Persian that he calculated Iran’s actual inflation rate to be 113% on Wednesday, much higher than the World Bank’s latest reading.
The World Bank’s projection of a 4.5% contraction in Iran’s GDP this year is not as bad as the 6% contraction predicted by the International Monetary Fund, another global lending agency, in its latest report from April. The World Bank also said it expects economic growth in Iran to return next year “as the impact of U.S. sanctions tapers off and as inflation stabilizes.” It projected a 0.9% rise in Iran’s GDP for 2020.
Hanke declined to make his own predictions for Iran’s economic performance, saying any forecasts for a nation such as Iran are problematic because they rely on guesswork.
This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.