The Iranian government must investigate the deaths of at least 17 people at the hands of security forces in the western province of Kurdistan over the past two weeks, Human Rights Watch said today.
Security forces reportedly also wounded hundreds when they opened fire on demonstrators protesting the killing of a young Kurdish man, Shivan Qaderi, on July 9.
In addition, the government forces arrested hundreds of people throughout the province, including Roya Toloui, a women's rights activist, and several other leading human rights defenders and journalists.
On July 9, security forces shot and killed Shivan Qaderi in Mahabad. Kurdish groups, quoting Qaderi's brother, said that Qaderi was approached by the security forces in public, shot three times, and then tied to a military vehicle and dragged around the city. According to these reports, Qaderi was a social and political activist, but government authorities have accused him of “moral and financial violations.”
In the wake of Qaderi's murder, protests erupted in several cities and towns in Kurdistan. Protestors demanded that the government apprehend Qaderi's killers and put them on trial. Some of the protests reportedly involved attacks on government buildings and offices. Human Rights Watch obtained a list of 17 protestors killed by the security forces, including three people shot dead in Oshnavieh on July 26, two people shot dead in Baneh on July 30, one person shot dead in Sardasht on August 2, and 11 people shot dead in Saqqez on August 3.
“The Iranian government needs to conduct a full and impartial investigation into the violent response to the recent protests in Kurdistan,” said Hadi Ghaemi, Iran researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Officials who are responsible for any excessive use of lethal force must be prosecuted.”
On August 7, officials of the Interior Ministry said that two men died in Saqqez on August 3, but they denied that government forces had fired on protestors. However, two residents of Saqqez told Human Rights Watch that Special Units (Yiganhay-e Vizhe) of the Revolutionary Guards fired indiscriminately in an effort to disperse the crowds.
“The security forces moved towards the protestors while shooting directly at them,” one eyewitness told Human Rights Watch. Eyewitnesses also told Human Rights Watch that one of the dead in Saqqez, Mohammad Shariati, was shot in the head.
“As his family tried to retrieve his body, the security forces pointed their guns at them and threatened to shoot them. Then they started beating his family with batons,” said an eyewitness who told Human Rights Watch that she saw Shariati fall to the ground.
In addition, eyewitnesses said that the security forces in Saqqez flew helicopters quite low in an effort to disperse the demonstrators, who numbered in the hundreds.
According to local residents, major cities in Kurdistan remain surrounded by units of the Revolutionary Guard and that an undeclared martial law is effectively in place throughout the region.
Iranian authorities blamed the unrest on “hooligan and criminal elements” and charged that “public and state-owned buildings, including banks, were damaged.” Human Rights Watch recognizes the responsibility of the government to take steps to deal with threats to public safety and property. However, the government's response must be lawful and governed by the standards set out in the U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. These principles state that “intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”
On August 2, the government shut down Ashti newspaper and the weekly Asu in Kurdistan. Authorities detained Roya Toloui, a leading women's rights activist, at her home in Sanandaj for “disturbing the peace” and “acting against national security.”
On the same day, security forces detained other prominent journalists and human rights defenders at their homes and offices including Azad Zamani, a member of the Association for the Defense of Children's Rights; Mohammad Sadeq Kabudvand, journalist and co-founder of Kurdistan Human Rights Organization; Jalal Qavami, editor of the journal Payam-e Mardom; and Mahmoud Salehi, the spokesman for the Organizational Committee to Establish Trade Unions.
Human Rights Watch called on the Iranian government to immediately and unconditionally release detained journalists, human rights defenders and activists.