Iran has been "deliberately covering up" 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.
In a report published on November 27, the New York-based watchdog quoted human rights groups and an Iranian lawmaker as saying more than 140 people were killed and up to 7,000 were detained during the protests that rocked more than 100 towns and cities across Iran last week.
The extent of the crackdown against the protests that broke out on the evening of November 25 remains unclear, mainly due to a near-total Internet blackout imposed by the authorities for several days.
Authorities have yet to publish any definitive official death toll for the unrest that saw protesters attack police stations, torch petrol pumps, and loot shops.
Iran's clerical establishment has blamed the unrest on "thugs" backed by its foreign foes, including the United States and its allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.
"The people have foiled a deep, broad, and very dangerous conspiracy on which a lot of money was spent…to launch a campaign of destruction, arson, murder, and vandalism," Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a meeting of the paramilitary Basij force on November 27.
Meanwhile, Iran's official news agency IRNA reported that at least eight people allegedly linked to the CIA were arrested during the unrest.
"These elements received CIA-funded training in various countries under the cover of becoming citizen-journalists," the Intelligence Ministry was quoted as saying.
In its report titled "Iran: Deliberate Coverup of Brutal Crackdown," HRW 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."
Video footage posted 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 HRW.
“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."