Iran - A new wave of brutal attacks on protesters and Baluch worshipers
October 26, 2023
The brutal attacks by the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran against the peaceful weekly demonstrations of thousands of protesters and worshipers of the oppressed Baluch minority in Zahedan, Sistan-and-Baluchestan province, intensified on Friday, October 20, 2023. According to today's Amnesty International announcement, security forces resorted to the illegal use of tear gas and water cannons and subjected protesters to severe beatings, arbitrary mass arrests, enforced disappearances, and other forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading manners. The organization calls on the authorities of the Islamic Republic to refrain from using illegal force and firearms against peaceful protesters in next Friday's gatherings and respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
The evidence collected by Amnesty International, including interviews with eyewitnesses and video footage, paints a dark picture of violence and cruelty against thousands of peaceful worshipers and protesters, including young children aged 10. Hundreds of people, including dozens of children, were violently arrested and many of them have been subjected to enforced disappearance. Detained children and adults have been tortured and abused, including severe beatings and injuries caused by paintball bullets fired at close range.
Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International said: "The authorities have intensified their brutal crackdown to prevent the weekly gathering of Baloch protesters in Zahedan. Governments around the world must immediately urge Iran to stop using illegal force and firearms against peaceful protesters, stop torturing detainees, and release children and all others who have been detained solely for peacefully exercising their rights."
She added: "The systematic impunity of perpetrators and commanders of human rights violations in Iran that has enabled a new wave of torture against protesters including children is a reminder that governments around the world must initiate criminal investigations under universal jurisdiction and within the framework of international law about crimes committed by the authorities of the Islamic Republic."
A storm of bullets, tear gas, and brutal beatings
Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that security forces threw stones at thousands of worshipers who were peacefully leaving the Grand Mosque, the venue for Friday prayers in Zahedan, at the end of the prayers on October 20. After about a thousand protesters left the prayer site and started their peaceful march on Razi Street, security forces surrounded the remaining thousands of worshipers who were leaving the mosque and ordered them to "wait for the return of calm".
Minutes later, security forces illegally fired tear gas and in some cases shotguns at peaceful protesters. An eyewitness reported seeing several teenagers hit by shotgun pellets in the head and chest. A small minority of protesters responded by throwing stones at the suppressors.
The protesters dispersed after security forces fired and used water cannons that sprayed a yellow liquid at them. This colored liquid later facilitated the identification and arrest of protesters by the agents.
Security forces chased fleeing protesters and beat and arrested anyone they could reach, including children.
One eyewitness told Amnesty International: "I saw them beating 10-year-old children, young people and elderly people with batons. The agents dragged the protesters on the asphalt and several people punched and kicked them."
Eyewitnesses also said that security forces fired tear gas into the courtyard of the Makki Grand Mosque after hundreds of peaceful protesters took refuge inside, and violently arrested the guards at the entrance of the mosque.
Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that security forces continued to make arrests even after the protesters dispersed and targeted people suspected of participating in the demonstrations and those who had filmed the suppression of protesters from inside a residential building nearby.
The security forces involved in this crackdown included the Special Unit of the Police Force, the Revolutionary Guards in uniform, and plainclothes agents, some of whom wore traditional Baluchi clothes and masks.
Amnesty International's Crisis Evidence Lab examined 32 videos and photos from Friday, October 20, 2023, which confirm eyewitness statements. Five videos and photos show young children with open wounds or other injuries on their heads.
Mass arrests and torture
Security forces also arrested hundreds of worshipers outside the mosque. Many others were beaten and warned not to attend Friday prayers in the coming weeks.
The detainees were first transferred to the Imam Ali Sports Complex, where they were severely beaten, and then transferred to detention centers run by the Revolutionary Guards, the Ministry of Intelligence, or the Police Force, where they said they were subjected to more torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Some of these detainees were later released, some were transferred to Zahedan Central Prison and some of the detained children were handed over to the Correction and Rehabilitation Center for Children and Adolescents.
One of the relatives of these detainees, who was allowed to visit two detained children, said that while one of them was crying anxiously, they explained how they had been severely beaten with batons.
Another family of these detainees told Amnesty International that the judicial authorities had issued a 30-day detention order for their two children, but refused to disclose their whereabouts.
Amnesty International has received accounts of widespread torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, including children, during their transfer to and inside detention centers.
One of the relatives of an adult prisoner who was released said that security forces repeatedly punched and kicked the prisoners in the head, face, and body and beat them: "The hands and feet of many detainees, including small children, were broken. The cheek of one of the detained children was torn and bleeding, but instead of taking him to a medical center, they left him on the street."
Preparing for more bloodshed
Eyewitnesses said that on the morning of the attack, there was a noticeable increase in the deployment of security forces throughout Zahedan and new checkpoints had been set up on the streets leading to the Friday prayer site, indicating a planned crackdown.
Amnesty International believes that the recent severity is related to intensified efforts to suppress weekly protests in Zahedan. Halvash, a Baluch human rights organization based outside Iran, reported that in September 2023, Ahmadreza Radan, commander-in-chief of the police force, had made threats during a meeting with local Baluch tribal and religious leaders about the continuation of weekly protests that have been going on since the start of the uprising "Woman, Life, Freedom" a year ago.
Residents are worried that the authorities of the Islamic Republic are preparing for more bloodshed. A woman insisted that Amnesty International make sure that the voice of Baluch protesters is heard: "Please convey our voice. We have been suppressed with violence for a whole year. We are in a bad situation, anything bad can happen in our protest Fridays."
Amnesty International once again calls on the international community to pressure the authorities of the Islamic Republic to give unconditional access to the UN fact-finding committee, to investigate human rights violations related to the uprising "Woman, Life, Freedom".