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Iran: families of children killed by security forces facing 'relentless intimidation' - report

Solidarity rally for protesters in Iran
© Amnesty International/Stéphane Lelarge

Grieving relatives pressured into giving false accounts in media interviews and prevented from holding customary funerals

At least 44 child victims identified, with large proportion from oppressed Baluchi and Kurdish minorities

‘The authorities have been killing children in a bid to crush the spirit of resistance among the country’s youth’ - Heba Morayef

The Iranian authorities’ arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment of relatives of children unlawfully killed by the security forces in the anti-protest crackdown is part of a cruel and sinister attempt to cover up their crimes, said Amnesty International today.

In an updated 48-page report, Amnesty has documented the unlawful killings of at least 44 children by Iran’s security forces, as well as a cruel campaign of intimidation against their grieving families.   

The research shows that the Iranian security forces shot 34 of the child victims with live ammunition in the heart, head or other vital organs, while at least four were killed by metal pellets unlawfully fired by the security forces at close range. Five other children - four girls and one boy - died from injuries consistent with fatal beatings, and one girl was killed after being struck on the head with a tear gas canister. The victims include 39 boys, aged between two and 17, and five girls, three of whom were 16 years old, one 17 and another six.

Amnesty’s research shows that the Iranian authorities have routinely harassed and intimidated the families of child victims to coerce them into silence or to force them to accept accounts that absolve the authorities of responsibility, including with written statements or video recordings broadcast on state television. This has occurred after the killings of at least 13 children, with the security forces subjecting families to sustained coercion - including arbitrary arrest and detention, threats to bury the bodies of their loved ones in unidentified locations, and threats to kill, rape, detain or otherwise harm bereaved parents and their surviving children.

The father of Koumar Daroftadeh, a 16-year-old Kurdish boy killed by live fire from the security forces in West Azerbaijan province on 30 October, said on 13 November in an interview with Radio Farda, an independent media outlet:

“They [security and intelligence agents] summoned me and told me that I should say whatever they dictate to me ... The authorities killed my son and must be held accountable.”

Children represent around one in seven of the total number of deaths of protesters and bystanders recorded by Amnesty, with the overall death toll exceeding 300 since the protests erupted nearly three months ago. Amnesty’s investigations into killings by the security forces continue, and the true number of those killed - including children - is believed to be higher than this figure.

The Iranian authorities have publicly denied responsibility for the killing of at least 19 of the child victims, blaming 12 on attacks by “hired terrorists” or “unknown persons”, attributing three to suicidal or accidental falls from heights, one to a suicidal or accidental drug overdose, one to a dog bite, one to a motorcycle accident and another to a stampede. For nine other children, all from the oppressed Baluchi minority, the authorities have questioned whether they had actually died, claiming in reports to the UN that “there is no death record” for the children concerned.

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said:

“The authorities have been killing children in a bid to crush the spirit of resistance among the country’s youth and retain their iron grip on power at any cost.

“The authorities have not only condemned families of children killed to a lifetime of inconsolable sadness, but they have also inflicted extreme mental anguish upon them through cruel restrictions on burials and relentless intimidation aimed at enforcing silence.

“The recent establishment of a UN fact-finding mission to collect, consolidate and analyse evidence of such violations sends a clear message to the Iranian authorities that they can no longer commit crimes under international law and other grave violations of human rights without fear of consequences.

“We now urge all states to exercise universal jurisdiction to criminally investigate Iranian officials involved in militarised attacks on demonstrators, including children.”

Cruel restrictions on burials

Security and intelligence agents have been threatening to withhold the bodies of child victims from families unless they commit - in writing - to remaining silent and to abiding by new restrictions on funeral and memorial ceremonies. In some cases, officials have prepared the bodies of victims for burial without notifying families, then handed them the bodies, wrapped in shrouds, minutes before the scheduled burial, denying families their right to wash and prepare their loves ones for burial in accordance with their own religious and cultural traditions. Other restrictions have included forcing families to bury their loved ones in remote villages, banning the use of the word “martyr” and prohibiting relatives from hanging large memorial banners or sharing images of victims and funeral posters on social media.

Children from persecuted minorities targeted

Around two-thirds of the children killed by the Iranian security forces have been from country’s oppressed Baluchi and Kurdish minorities, communities which have long suffered from systemic discrimination and persecution by the authorities. A family member of a child unlawfully killed in Sistan and Baluchistan told Amnesty:

“They did not pay any attention to us. They [Iranian authorities] do not consider us [Baluchis] human. There are many witnesses [to the killings], but their testimonies are worthless against the Islamic Republic because the authorities do not accept them.”

Of the 44 child victims recorded by Amnesty, 18 belonged to Iran’s Baluchi minority. Thirteen were killed by the security forces on 30 September in Zahedan in Sistan and Baluchistan province during the deadliest day of the authorities’ anti-protest crackdown, widely known as Bloody Friday. Ten of the children killed were from the Kurdish minority and were killed in eight cities or towns in the Kurdish-populated provinces of Kurdistan, Kermanshah and West Azerbaijan.

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