Iranians went on strike in several cities on Tuesday to commemorate the 2019 protests over fuel prices, a display of dissent that was crushed by security forces in the bloodiest crackdown in the history of the Islamic Republic.
The move will add to pressure on Iran’s clerical rulers, who have been battling two months of nationwide protests triggered by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police.
In 2019, Reuters reported 1,500 people were killed in that wave of unrest which began over fuel price hikes but quickly turned political. Iranian authorities dismissed that death toll. In the latest protests, the rights activist HRANA news agency said 344 people have been killed, including 52 minors. It also reported 40 members of the security forces being killed, in addition to 15,820 people being arrested.
The demonstrations have turned into a legitimacy crisis for the clerical establishment, which took power after the 1979 revolution toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a secular monarch allied with the West.
Up to 19 of the thousands of people arrested face charges which carry the death penalty in the cities of Tehran and nearby Karaj, according to state media reports. Support for the protest movement is pouring in from lawyers, students, doctors, actors and athletes seeking a new political order. Famous retired footballer Ali Daei said on Instagram that he refused FIFA’s invitation to attend the World Cup in Qatar.
“In these difficult days when most of us are unwell, I have given a negative response to FIFA’s invitation and prefer to stay alongside my compatriots and share my condolences to families who have recently lost their loved ones,” Daei said.
UN office urges Iran to free detained peaceful protesters
The UN human rights office is calling on Iran’s government to immediately release thousands of people who have been detained for participating in peaceful protests, faulting its “increasing harshness” as Western countries seek to ratchet up scrutiny of Tehran’s crackdown against demonstrators.
Spokesman Jeremy Laurence of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was calling for all charges to be dropped against the demonstrators and cautioned that Iran can only mete out the death penalty for the “most serious crimes” under international law — amid concerns that some protesters could be facing capital punishment.
“Instead of opening space for dialogue on legitimate grievances, the authorities are responding to unprecedented protests with increasing harshness,” Laurence said at a regular UN press briefing in Geneva.
He said at least 10 protesters had been charged with offenses that carry the death penalty — including one found guilty of either “waging war against God” or “corruption on earth” for allegedly damaging public property.
Separately, Germany and Iceland are leading a push led mostly by Western countries for the UN-backed Human Rights Council to create a special “fact-finding mission” — a team of independent rights experts — to look into alleged rights violations in the Islamic Republic linked to nationwide protests that erupted on September 16.
Iranian women — and some men — have been protesting the government’s severe restrictions on their daily life since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.
The council, which is made up of 47 member states and whose composition is tweaked every year, is set to hold a special session on November 24 to debate the situation in Iran and ultimately vote on the proposal that includes the call for the fact-finding mission.