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The rights group’s Evidence Lab, part of its Crisis Response Team, says it has verified footage showing Iran’s security forces armed with automatic weapons and shotguns, deploying “unlawful force” to crush mostly peaceful protests taking place across the southern province of Khuzestan.
The demonstrations erupted last week in the southwest of the country over dramatic water shortages as temperatures have soared towards 50C. Since then, Amnesty says, security forces have killed at least eight protesters and bystanders, including a teenage boy, across seven different cities.
The group also warned there had been mass arrests including many in the Ahwazi Arab minority.
Iranian government officials or state-affiliated media outlets, meanwhile, have recognised the death of only four “members of the public” and blamed the deaths on unidentified armed “rioters”. On Friday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, addressed the crisis for the first time saying he understood the protesters’ anger over the drought.
“Using live ammunition against unarmed protesters posing no imminent threat to life is horrifying,” Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said.
“Protesters are voicing legitimate economic and political grievances, yet they face a barrage of gunfire, tear gas, and arrests,” she added.
Amnesty urged Iran to stop the bloodshed and called on the UN Human Rights Council to urgently collect evidence to facilitate “fair and independent criminal proceedings”.
Khamenei has accused Iran’s enemies of trying to exploit the situation.
“People showed their discontent, but we cannot have any complaint since the issue of water in the hot climate of Khuzestan is not a minor issue,” Khamenei was quoted by state television as saying.
Over the past week people in dozens of towns and cities have taken to the streets in Khuzestan, an oil-rich province home to Iran’s Arab population that say they have long faced discrimination.
Last week internet access advocacy group NetBlocks said mobile phone internet service was disrupted during the protests.
Environmental researchers accuse the authorities of failing to take adequate action to address the water crisis.
Iran is also struggling to control a new outbreak of coronavirus and other areas of unrest: thousands of workers in its oil industry are on strike to demand better wages and working conditions.
Iran’s economy has also struggled under crushing US sanctions imposed by the former US president, Donald Trump, when he made the 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. It has crashed the value of the Islamic Republic’s currency, the rial.
According to analysis by Amnesty’s weapons experts, they identified use of gunfire during protests in the cities of Izeh, Ahvaz, Kut-e Abdollah, Susangard and Shoushtar.
“Iran’s authorities have a harrowing track record of using unlawful lethal force. The events unfolding have chilling echoes of the protests in November 2019 when security forces killed hundreds of people but were never held to account.” said Ms Altahawy.
“We have called time and time again for an end to the systematic impunity that continues to perpetuate cycles of bloodshed as seen in this brutal crackdown on protests.”