Friends and relatives bury a victim of the June 15 violence at Azadi (Freedom) square.

(New York) - The Iranian government should immediately investigate the deaths of at least seven protesters, allegedly at the hands of police and militia forces in Tehran, and end the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters there and in other cities, Human Rights Watch said today.

On June 16, 2009, Iranian state radio reported that seven people died the night before, during a gathering in Tehran to protest alleged fraud in the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June 12 presidential elections. The report said that the victims were shot dead when protesters tried to attack a military post. The government called the protest by hundreds of thousands of people an "unauthorized gathering."

"The use of violence against peaceful protesters does nothing but discredit Iran in the eyes of the world," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

International law requires Iran to protect the right of peaceful assembly, as for example in Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party.

Since the June 12 vote, the government has intermittently blocked various means of communication including cell phone networks and SMS (text messaging) in an apparent attempt to prevent demonstrators from mobilizing.

A source at Rasool-e-Akram hospital in Tehran told Human Rights Watch that nine persons died after the June 15 protests, three are in coma, and 40 others are in a critical condition. "The other injured people have been sent to other hospitals including Meymanat, Shariati, Shahriar, Eghbal, and Imam Khomeini Hospital," the source said.  There is no news on the condition of the hospitalized persons. 

Several witnesses told Human Rights Watch that on June 16, special police forces randomly attacked persons in the streets of Tehran close to the silent gathering in support of the reformist candidates whom, according to the contested official account, Ahmadinejad defeated.

"We were not doing anything wrong but walking toward the crowd," said one of the witnesses. "The [policemen] wanted to terrify the people who were about to join the protesters."

Human Rights Watch urged the Iranian authorities to ensure that all security forces abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials in policing demonstrations. The principles provide that authorities shall limit the use of force to situations when it is necessary, and then only to the minimum extent needed to achieve a legitimate purpose. The principles also call for an effective reporting and review process, especially in cases of death and serious injury.

Human rights law on the right to life, including Article 6 of the ICCPR, requires there to be an effective and open investigation when deaths may have been caused by state officials, leading to the identification and prosecution of the perpetrators of any crimes that took place in the killings.