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Iran: at least 82 protesters and bystanders killed in bloody crackdown in Baluchistan

Some of the victims of the Zahedan killings © Amnesty International

New evidence shows security forces used lethal force after Friday prayers in Zahedan

‘Bloody Friday’ left 66 dead, including children and other worshippers

‘The Iranian authorities … will stop at nothing to preserve power’ - Agnès Callamard

The Iranian security forces unlawfully killed at least 66 people - including children - and injured hundreds of others after firing live ammunition, metal pellets and teargas at protesters, bystanders and worshippers during a violent crackdown after Friday prayers on 30 September in the city of Zahedan in Sistan and Baluchistan province, Amnesty International said today. 

Since then, another 16 people have been killed in separate incidents in Zahedan in an ongoing crackdown, while evidence gathered from activists, victims’ families, eyewitness testimonies, and images and videos suggest the real Zahedan death toll is likely to be higher.

Widely referred to by Iranians as “bloody Friday”, the 30 September onslaught marked the deadliest day of the protests that have erupted across Iran in response to Mahsa Amini’s death in custody following her arrest by the country’s “morality” police.

Evidence gathered by Amnesty indicates that the majority of victims in Zahedan on 30 September were shot in the head, heart, neck or torso, revealing a clear intent to kill or seriously harm. There is also evidence that some victims were shot in the back of the head or torso, indicating they were facing away from the security forces and posing no imminent threat.

The number of deaths recorded by Amnesty relates only to victims whose names Amnesty has identified through information from primary sources directly impacted by the deaths or through Baluchi human rights activists. Amnesty has itself spoken to the families of 21 people killed in Zahedan. Amnesty has previously recorded the names of 52 people killed across the country by the Iranian security forces between 19 and 25 September. 

Since 21 September, when leaked documents show the country’s top military body issued an order to commanders in all provinces instructing them to “severely confront troublemakers and anti-revolutionaries”, there has been an alarming escalation in the use of force and firearms by the security forces in Iran.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: 

“The Iranian authorities have repeatedly shown utter disregard for the sanctity of human life and will stop at nothing to preserve power.

“The callous violence being unleashed by Iran’s security forces is not occurring in a vacuum. It is the result of systematic impunity and a lacklustre response by the international community.”

A calculated plan to crush protests

Protests in Zahedan, populated by the long-oppressed Baluchi ethnic minority, were scheduled to take place after Friday prayers on 30 September as a show of solidarity with nationwide protests and to demand accountability for the reported rape of a 15-year-old girl by a police commander in the province.

As a group of people finished praying in the Great Mosalla of Zahedan, a large prayer site near the city’s main mosque, and gathered outside the police station across the road to protest and chant, security forces fired live ammunition, metal pellets and tear gas at them from the police station rooftop. Simultaneously, plain-clothed security forces fired at protesters and bystanders from the rooftops of several nearby houses, as corroborated by photographs shared by activists. The security forces also unlawfully fired live ammunition, metal pellets and teargas directly into the vicinity of the Mosalla, where hundreds of people - including children and older people - were still performing Friday prayers.

On 1 October, Mawlana Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi, the outspoken Sunni leader of Friday prayers in Zahedan, recounted the crackdown in video testimony. He said that more than 40 people were killed after the security forces standing on rooftops fired live ammunition at a group of young protesters outside the police station as well as directly into the Mosalla where men and women were performing prayers. 

State denial and cover-up 

Consistent with a previous pattern of denial and cover-up, the Iranian authorities have under-reported the number of fatalities, announcing that 19 people - including bystanders and several members of the security forces - were killed during the 30 September protests in Zahedan. In an attempt to absolve themselves of responsibility for the deaths, the authorities have shared false accounts blaming the deaths on “terrorists”, “rioters” and “separatists” who they claim were acting for foreign governments.

Propaganda videos broadcast on state media after 30 September have shown detainees - whom the authorities allege were involved in armed attacks against security forces in Zahedan - with sacks over their heads. One video shows a detainee being asked leading questions by a TV presenter and forced to make self-incriminating statements without a lawyer present over his alleged involvement in shootings on 30 September. Given the Iranian authorities’ well-documented pattern of producing and broadcasting coerced statements from detainees to cover up human rights violations, Amnesty is concerned that such statements have been extracted under duress.

The Iranian authorities have claimed that protesters in Zahedan committed acts of looting and arson against public property. However, beyond a minority of protesters throwing stones at the police station, Amnesty has found no evidence of protesters or bystanders engaging in acts of violence during the Mosalla incident.

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