Iran: Internet deliberately shut down during November 2019 killings

Amnesty International    |    November 16, 2020

The Iranian authorities deliberately shut down the internet during nationwide protests in November 2019, hiding the true scale of unlawful killings by security forces, Amnesty International said today.

On the anniversary of the deadliest day of the protests, Amnesty International is launching a new microsite, A web of impunity: The killings Iran’s internet shutdown hid, documenting how the lethal crackdown that left at least 304 people dead was hidden from the world.

“When news of the deadly crackdown began to emerge from Iran last November, the world was shocked by the brutal violence of the security forces. The authorities deliberately blocked internet access inside Iran, hiding the true extent of the horrendous human rights violations that they were carrying out across the country,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“The government thought they could silence the population by taking the country offline, but the Iranian people were determined to tell the world the truth. Our new website is a tribute to the courage of everyone who captured on camera the scenes of violence that the authorities wanted to keep hidden.”

The authorities deliberately blocked internet access inside Iran, hiding the true extent of the horrendous human rights violations that they were carrying out across the country

Diana Eltahawy

The microsite – a joint investigation between Amnesty International and The Hertie School, in partnership with the Internet Outage Detection and Analysis (IODA) project – features more than 100 verified videos from 31 cities, and reveals the repeated use of firearms, water cannons and tear gas by Iran’s security forces against unarmed protesters and bystanders.

To date, no one has been criminally investigated or held accountable for the killings. Amnesty International is again calling on member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council to mandate an inquiry into the unlawful killings to ensure those responsible for ordering, planning and carrying out the crimes are brought to justice in fair trials.






Protest crackdown and internet blackout

On 15 November 2019, protests erupted across Iran following a government announcement of a significant increase in the price of fuel. During the five days of protests that followed, security forces killed at least 304 men, women and children. The victims were mostly killed with shots to the head or torso, indicating security forces were operating a shoot-to-kill policy. The real number of deaths is believed to be much higher, but the ongoing cover-up by Iranian authorities means the true death toll may never be known.

On 16 November, authorities started to shut down the country’s internet. Amnesty International’s research shows that day was also the deadliest of the protests, with at least 100 protesters and bystanders killed.

As protests intensified, the Iranian authorities implemented a near-total internet blackout by ordering different internet service providers (ISPs) to shut down. IODA observed steady drops in signals, which started when cellular operators were ordered to disconnect around 2pm local time on 16 November. By 7pm, Iran had descended into digital darkness.

Iran’s domestic internet remained online, allowing activities such as government services and banking to continue, which minimized financial losses in the country’s economy. It was only around five days later, at approximately 10am on 21 November, that internet access began to be restored. It did not completely return until 27 November.

Internet shutdowns and human rights

A shutdown happens when a state or another actor intentionally disrupts the internet for a specific population, or within a specific region. Shutdowns take a variety of forms. Authorities may slow down the internet to make access difficult, or they may order ISPs to shut down services completely.

The UN Human Rights Committee has declared that “states…must not block or hinder internet connectivity in relation to peaceful assemblies”. However, many states have increasingly used internet shutdowns as a tool to stifle or silence dissent in recent years, particularly when faced with protests or uprisings.

Access to the internet is essential to protect human rights, especially in times of protest 

Sam Dubberley

Since the November 2019 protests, internet access in Iran has been disrupted on several occasions during further protests. Organizing peaceful protests, speaking openly against state policies, and documenting human rights violations all heavily rely on the ability to access the internet, and are protected under international human rights law.

Today, Amnesty International is also joining the #KeepItOn coalition, a partnership of more than 220 organizations campaigning against internet shutdowns.

“Access to the internet is essential to protect human rights, especially in times of protest. The Iranian authorities must commit to never again taking the country offline, and must respect the right to peaceful protest,” said Sam Dubberley, Head of Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab.

Uncovering the hidden killings

Amnesty International first documented the use of lethal force against protesters in the days after the crackdown began, and recorded the details of at least 304 people killed in an investigation published in May 2020.

The organization verified the deaths by collating evidence from videos and photographs, death and burial certificates, accounts from eyewitnesses, victims’ relatives, and friends and acquaintances on the ground, as well as information collected by human rights activists and journalists.

Further research by Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps found that in the vast majority of cases across the country, there was no evidence that protesters posed an imminent threat to life or threat of serious injury. As such, the intentional lethal use of firearms by the authorities was completely unwarranted and unlawful.

Key data that Amnesty International has gathered is published on the microsite, including pictures of victims and details related to their cause and place of death, and can be downloaded in both English and Farsi.

Amnesty International is again calling on the Iranian authorities to ensure that independent and impartial criminal investigations are conducted into every death during the November 2019 protests, as the first step towards ending impunity.,-16%20November%202020&text=The%20Iranian%20authorities%20deliberately%20shut,forces%2C%20Amnesty%20International%20said%20today.





Amnesty International    |    September 2, 2020

  • Widespread torture including beatings, floggings, electric shocks, stress positions, mock executions, waterboarding, sexual violence, forced administration of chemical substances, and deprivation of medical care
  • Hundreds subjected to grossly unfair trials on baseless national security charges
  • Death sentences issued based on torture-tainted “confessions”

Iran’s police, intelligence and security forces, and prison officials have committed, with the complicity of judges and prosecutors,  a catalogue of shocking human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, against those detained in connection with the nationwide protests of November 2019, said Amnesty International in a damning new report published today.

In the days following the mass protests, videos showing Iran’s security forces deliberately killing and injuring unarmed protesters and bystanders sent shockwaves around the world. Much less visible has been the catalogue of cruelty meted out to detainees and their families by Iranian officials away from the public eye. 

Diana Eltahawy 

The report, Trampling humanity: Mass arrests, disappearances and torture since Iran’s 2019 November protests, documents the harrowing accounts of dozens of protesters, bystanders and others who were violently arrested, forcibly disappeared or held incommunicado, systemically denied access to their lawyers during interrogations, and repeatedly tortured to “confess”. They are among the 7,000 men, women and children arrested by the Iranian authorities within a matter of days during their brutal repression of the protests.

Victims include children as young as 10 and injured protesters and bystanders arrested from hospitals while seeking medical care for gunshot wounds, as well as human rights defenders including minority rights activists, journalists, and individuals who attended ceremonies to commemorate those killed during the protests. Hundreds have since been sentenced to prison terms and flogging and several to the death penalty following grossly unfair trials which were presided over by biased judges behind closed doors, frequently lasted less than an hour, and systematically relied on torture-tainted “confessions”.

“In the days following the mass protests, videos showing Iran’s security forces deliberately killing and injuring unarmed protesters and bystanders sent shockwaves around the world. Much less visible has been the catalogue of cruelty meted out to detainees and their families by Iranian officials away from the public eye,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Instead of investigating allegations of enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment and other crimes against detainees, Iranian prosecutors became complicit in the campaign of repression by bringing national security charges against hundreds of people solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, while judges doled out guilty verdicts on the basis of torture-tainted ‘confessions’. This litany of crimes and violations, committed with total impunity, has been accompanied by a wave of forced televised ‘confessions’ in state propaganda videos and grotesque statements from top officials who have praised intelligence and security forces as heroes for their role in the brutal crackdown.”

Amnesty International has recorded the names and details of more than 500 protesters and others, including journalists and human rights defenders, who have been subjected to unfair criminal proceedings in connection with the protests.

Prison terms meted out to those convicted have ranged from between one month and 10 years for vague or spurious national security charges such as “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security”, “spreading propaganda against the system”, “disrupting public order” and “insulting the Supreme Leader”.

Of these, at least three, Amirhossein Moradi, Mohammad Rajabi and Saeed Tamjidi, were sentenced to death for “enmity against God” (moharebeh) through acts of vandalism, and another, Hossein Reyhani, is awaiting trial on a charge carrying the death penalty.

Instead of investigating allegations of enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment and other crimes against detainees, Iranian prosecutors became complicit in the campaign of repression by bringing national security charges against hundreds of people solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, while judges doled out guilty verdicts on the basis of torture-tainted ‘confessions’. 

Diana Eltahawy

More than a dozen known to Amnesty International have received flogging sentences, in addition to prison terms, and at least two have had their flogging sentences implemented.

The organization believes that the real number of individuals prosecuted and sentenced in connection with the November 2019 protests is far higher, given the large number of arrests carried out and the patterns of prosecution and sentencing in the country in cases of arbitrary arrests and detention involving intelligence and security bodies.

Amnesty International is urging member states of the UN Human Rights Council and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to address the prolonged, systematic impunity for gross violations of human rights in Iran, including by supporting the establishment of a UN-led inquiry with a view to ensuring accountability and guarantees of non-repetition.

The organization is also urging all UN member states to forcefully call on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release anyone who continues to be imprisoned solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in connection with the November 2019 protests; quash all convictions resulting from unfair trials, including those that relied on statements obtained through torture or other ill-treatment; and hold those responsible to account.

Torture epidemic

Amnesty International’s research found that there was widespread use of torture and other ill-treatment by police, intelligence and security agents and prison officials against men, women and children, both during arrest and later in detention.

Prosecution and judicial authorities failed in their legal obligations to conduct independent and impartial inspections of detention facilities, including those run by security and intelligence bodies, and to ensure that legal provisions banning the use of secret detention and torture and other ill-treatment against detainees are respected.

Torture was used to punish, intimidate and humiliate detainees. It was also routinely used to elicit “confessions” and incriminating statements, not just about their involvement in the protests, but also about their alleged associations with opposition groups, human rights defenders, media outside Iran, as well as with foreign governments.

The organization’s research found that victims were frequently hooded or blindfolded; punched, kicked and flogged; beaten with sticks, rubber hosepipes, knives, batons and cables; suspended or forced into holding painful stress positions for prolonged periods; deprived of sufficient food and potable water; placed in prolonged solitary confinement, sometimes for weeks or even months; and denied medical care for injuries sustained during the protests or as a result of torture.

Other documented methods of torture included stripping detainees and spraying them with cold water, and subjecting detainees to extreme temperatures and/or bombardment of light or sound; forcible extraction of the nails from fingers or toes; pepper spraying; forced administration of chemical substances; using electric shocks; waterboarding; and mock executions.

This litany of crimes and violations, committed with total impunity, has been accompanied by a wave of forced televised ‘confessions’ in state propaganda videos and grotesque statements from top officials who have praised intelligence and security forces as heroes for their role in the brutal crackdown. 

Diana Eltahawy

Information received by Amnesty International from primary sources also reveals that interrogators and prison officials perpetrated sexual violence against male detainees, including through stripping and forced nakedness, sexual verbal abuse, pepper spraying the genital area, and administering electric shocks to the testicles.

One victim from Khorasan Razavi province who was subjected to waterboarding told Amnesty International:

“They [my interrogators] would drench a towel in water and place it over my face. Then they would pour water slowly over the towel, which made me feel like I was suffocating… They would stop… until I started to feel better and then they would start torturing me this way again. They also punched, kicked and flogged me on the soles of my feet with a cable.”

One man who was subjected to electric shocks recounted:

“The electric shocks were the worst form of torture… It felt like my entire body was being pierced with millions of needles. If I refused to answer their questions, they would raise the voltage levels and give me stronger electric shocks. I would shake violently and there would be a strong burning sensation coursing through my whole body…. The torture has had lasting effects on my mental and physical health. To this day, I still can’t sleep at night.”

A victim from Tehran province who was suspended from his hands and feet from a pole in a painful method his interrogators referred to as “chicken kebab” told the organization:

“The pain was excruciating. There was so much pressure and pain in my body that I would urinate on myself… My family know that I was tortured, but they don’t know how I was tortured. I feel choked with tears because there is no one here I can speak to.”

In all cases documented by Amnesty International, victims reported various forms of psychological torture to give forced “confessions”, including the use of degrading verbal insults and profanities; the intimidation and harassment of their family members; threats to arrest, torture, kill or otherwise harm their family members, including elderly parents or spouses; and threats to rape detainees or their female family members.

Enforced disappearances

Amnesty International’s research shows that many detainees were subjected to enforced disappearance for weeks or even months while held in undisclosed locations run by the security and intelligence bodies including the ministry of intelligence or the Revolutionary Guards. Other detainees were held in overcrowded prisons or police stations, military barracks, sports venues and schools.

Distressed relatives told the organization that they visited hospitals, morgues, police stations, prosecution offices, courts, prisons and other known detention centres to enquire about the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones, but the authorities refused to provide them with information and threatened them with arrest if they kept seeking information or publicly spoke out about them.

In one case documented by Amnesty International, the authorities arrested a family member of two people who were forcibly disappeared for enquiring about their fate and whereabouts.

Amnesty International is aware of three ongoing cases of enforced disappearance, where the authorities continue to conceal their fate and whereabouts from their families. They include brothers Mehdi Roodbarian and Mostafa Roodbarian from Mahshahr, Khuzestan province.


The organization’s research involved in-depth interviews with 60 victims of arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment or their relatives or close acquaintances; two protesters who were in hiding; and 14 other informed individuals; information received through written messages from several hundred others inside the country and analysis of video footage, official statements and court documents.



NCRI    |    Written by Shamsi Saadati    |    July 22, 2020

Morgan Ortagus, the spokesperson of the United States State Department, in a video message on Twitter, while condemning the Iranian regime’s ongoing human rights violations, particularly the 1988 massacre of thousands of political prisoners, called on the “international community to conduct independent investigations and do provide accountability and justice for the victims of these horrendous violations of human rights, organized by the Iranian regime.”

“July 19th marks the anniversary of the start of Iran. So-called death commissions on the orders of Ayatollah Khomeini. These commissions reportedly forcibly disappeared and extra judicially executed thousands of political dissident prisoners. The current head of the Iranian judiciary and current minister of justice have both been identified as former members of these death commissions.

The Iranian judiciary is widely perceived to lack independence and fair trial guarantees. And the revolutionary courts are particularly egregious in ordering violations of human rights. All Iranian officials who commit human rights violations or abuses should be held accountable. The United States calls on the international community to conduct independent investigations and do provide accountability and justice for the victims of these horrendous violations of human rights, organized by the Iranian regime,” she said in a video message on Twitter.

Iranian Massacre

In response, while welcoming this position, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said on Twitter: “I welcome the call by the State Department spokeswoman for an independent investigation into the actions of the death commissions during the #1988Massacre and demand justice for the martyrs. Perpetrators must be brought to justice. Dispatching international  fact-finding missions to Iran, joined by the MEK & Iranian Resistance representatives to prevent regime’s cover-up of the 1988 Massacre (crime against humanity), especially of the graves and precise figures of the martyrs in prisons and  cities across Iran is an imperative.”

Iran Massacre

In the summer of 1988, the Iranian regime executed over 30,000 political prisoners in a matter of a few months. Most of the victims were supporters and members of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

The call by the State Department was simultaneous with the NCRI’s 3-day “Free Iran Global Summit” which started on July 17. During this event, the NCRI connected thousands of people from over 30,000 locations to Ashraf 3, Albania, home to thousands of members of the MEK. These conferences were attended by over 1,000 political dignitaries from all four corners of the world.

Iran Rising

The 1988 massacre was the theme of the second day of this conference. The participants called on the international community to initiate an independent investigation, hold the regime’s officials to account for this “crime against humanity” and end the regime’s impunity. During this event, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, who was the keynote speaker, reiterated: “The sacred blood of those martyrs in 1988 massacre are today roaring in Iran, giving rise to generation after generation of rebellious youths. I would only recall this popular slogan about the massacre of handcuffed prisoners in 1988: We will neither forgive, nor forget.”

Iran global summit

Tahar Boumedra, the former head of the UN’s Human Rights Office in Iraq, said: “The crime committed against political prisoners in the 1988 Massacre has been well established and documented. The UN and relevant institutions have been informed and received documents on this issue.”

Renowned human rights lawyer and ex-UN judge Geoffrey Robertson previously investigated the 1988 massacre. He told the conference he was “staggered” by what he uncovered, describing it “as the worst crime against humanity since World War II.” He said that the perpetrators must be held to account.

Iranian judiciary

Mrs. Rajavi started the Call-for-Justice movement in 2016. This movement has had an important impact on the Iranian society and the regime. In this regard, Mrs. Rajavi said: “As you are aware, the Call-for-Justice movement played a significant role in foiling Khamenei’s scheme in the regime’s presidential elections in 2017 where he intended to engineer the election of Ebrahim Raisi, who was a member of the death committees which issued sentences for victims of the 1988 massacre. The campaign was so effective that (the regime’s president, Hassan) Rouhani used it to attract more votes for himself.

Opportunistically, he said Raisi did not have anything on his record except 38 years of executions and imprisonments. Two days later, an infuriated Khamenei flanked by Qassem Soleimani and IRGC commanders, slammed Rouhani, warning him against crossing the regime’s red lines.”

“Then, he openly “recommended” that his functionaries in the Intelligence Ministry write articles and make movies and do something to prevent Raisi from being exposed. In the next steps, when the international Call-for-Justice movement climaxed, the regime undertook its own special schemes which it called “a complex multi-faceted operation.” It recruited a mercenary to distort the objectives of the Call-for-Justice movement, and marginalize the PMOI/MEK organization and their leadership, despite the fact that the PMOI/MEK’s destruction was the main goal of the 1988 massacre and Khomeini’s fatwa,” she added.

The 1988 massacre was a crime against humanity, and the international community must hold the regime’s officials to account for this crime.  As Mrs. Rajavi said: “Perpetrators must be brought to justice. Dispatching international fact-finding missions to Iran, joined by the MEK & Iranian Resistance representatives to prevent regime’s cover-up of the 1988 Massacre (crime against humanity), especially of the graves and precise figures of the martyrs in prisons and  cities across Iran is an imperative.”

Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)
(Chairman of the House Democratic caucus)
Message to 2020 Free Iran Summit
June 17-20, 2020

Thank you to the Summit for Free Iran, and I join your call in denouncing the Iranian regime’s terrorism, human rights abuses, nuclear ambitions and suppression of religious freedom. I support the democratic aspirations of the people of Iran and we stand with you until you are able to obtain the freedom and liberty that all human beings deserve.

Amnesty International    |    10 July 2020

Following the Iranian judicial authorities’ confirmation that on 8 July, a man in the city of Mashhad was executed following repeated convictions for drinking alcohol, Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director of Middle East and North Africa, said:

“The Iranian authorities have once again laid bare the sheer cruelty and inhumanity of their judicial system by executing a man simply for drinking alcohol. The victim was the latest person to be executed in Valkalibad prison, the site of numerous secret mass executions and a grotesque theatre of Iran’s contempt for human life.

The Iranian authorities have once again laid bare the sheer cruelty and inhumanity of their judicial system by executing a man simply for drinking alcohol. The victim was the latest person to be executed in Valkalibad prison, the site of numerous secret mass executions and a grotesque theatre of Iran’s contempt for human life

Diana Eltahawy

“We deplore the Iranian authorities’ repeated use of the death penalty, which has earned it the shameful status of the world’s second most prolific executioner. There is no justification for the death penalty which is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, and we urge the Iranian authorities to abolish it.”

Under Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, consumption of alcoholic beverages is punishable by 80 lashes, and if an individual is convicted and sentenced three times, the punishment on the fourth occasion is death.

We deplore the Iranian authorities’ repeated use of the death penalty, which has earned it the shameful status of the world’s second most prolific executioner. 

Diana Eltahawy

A 55-year-old, Mortaza Jamali, was named as the victim of the execution in Mashhad, Razavi Khorasan province, in reports by independent media outlets and on social media. At the time of writing, Amnesty International had not yet been able to obtain more information about the details of his trial and sentencing.

In response to public outrage over the execution, the department of justice in Razavi Khorasan province issued an official statement today, listing the man’s criminal record from previous cases unrelated to his death sentence, in what appears to be a crude attempt to “justify” his execution.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. Amnesty International recorded at least 251 executions in Iran in 2019 in its annual Death Penalty report.



New York Post    |    By Brian Hook    |    May 27, 2020

As the US special representative for Iran, I receive complaints regularly about Voice of America’s Persian service. Iranian viewers say its American taxpayer-funded programming often sounds more like the “Voice of the mullahs” than the “Voice of America.”

VOA Persian needs to do a better job of countering Iranian disinformation and propaganda. This is a priority for the Trump administration, because supporting the Iranian people includes giving them access to independent and truthful reporting.

Voice of America was founded in 1942 to communicate US policies to a global audience. VOA’s congressionally funded Persian News Network received more than $17 million in taxpayer funds last year. But VOA is failing to represent America to Iran with fact-based content that is reliable and authoritative.

And it isn’t just the Persian service. This month, President Trump highlighted serious concerns with VOA’s coverage of COVID-19, because it became an echo chamber for Chinese propaganda and disinformation.

The president is only the latest person to voice frustrations with VOA programming. The nonpartisan American Foreign Policy Council in 2017 conducted an independent assessment of VOA’s Persian programming. It found bias in its reporting, noting that VOA’s Persian coverage of Iran’s foreign policy “perpetuated to audiences the appearance of pro-regime propaganda, rather than objective reporting.” A follow-up analysis by the AFPC in 2019 found that many of the recommendations it made in 2017 were not implemented.

In 2014, a group of congressional representatives from both sides of the aisle called for an investigation into VOA Persian after allegations that it deliberately papered over the regime’s brutal human rights record.

I hear regularly about popular shows being suddenly canceled and replaced with lower quality programming that is less engaging and relevant. I was also disturbed to see that during the historic anti-regime protests last November, which left up to 1,500 Iranians dead, VOA Persian aired nature documentaries. VOA has certainly failed to present incisive and independent coverage of the Iranian regime itself.

One employee of VOA Persian told The Wall Street Journal that the network often refuses to air criticism of Iranian regime terror unless it is “balanced with the perspective of the Islamic Republic who vehemently [deny] any involvement.” Covering Iranian regime terrorism should not be conditioned upon regime hacks being available to lie about the terrorism.

Everyone knows the Iranian regime heavily censors news and information. The regime often imprisons journalists for telling the truth, then denies them their basic rights, like access to medical care or fair trials. The non-profit Reporters Without Borders routinely condemns the Islamic Republic for its assault against the free press. In February, it exposed Iranian officials who cracked down against the media for telling the truth about Iran’s COVID-19 outbreak and debunking the regime’s propaganda.

Now more than ever, the Iranian people need unbiased news. Regrettably, VOA Persian is letting them down. It is failing to effectively communicate US policies to Persian-speaking audiences with the balance and accuracy required in a contested information environment, especially with the regime’s sophisticated disinformation campaigns.

There is also widespread mismanagement at the organization. VOA Persian has failed to create an open and transparent workplace, a problem that has persisted for more than a decade. A 2009 government report found widespread employee dissatisfaction at VOA Persian, along with allegations of favoritism and biased hiring.

The report’s findings then could just as easily apply today, based on feedback from current and former employees, many of whom have taken their concerns public. VOA and the agency that oversees it, the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), are regularly ranked by their employees in confidential surveys as among the worst federal agencies to work for.

The American people deserve to have taxpayer-funded programs advance their interests, and VOA Persian is no exception. Here is what can be done to improve its reach and effectiveness.

First, VOA Persian needs to create more original programming that actually resonates with Iranian audiences. The earlier example of showing nature documentaries while protests raged across Iran is just one instance of VOA Persian’s programming missing the mark. In 2009, when the Green Revolution contested the presidential elections, VOA Persian continued its regular programming until three days into the post-election crisis. VOA Persian should be driving the conversation with content that is timely, relevant and reliably truthful.

Second, VOA Persian’s leadership needs to be more responsive and accountable. A start would be for USAGM to have a Senate-confirmed leader in place. Michael Pack was nominated to run the agency in June 2018, but his confirmation has languished needlessly in the Senate. Pack is the former head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and has served on the National Council of the Humanities. He is qualified for the position and should be confirmed by the Senate.

VOA Persian has the potential to be a critical tool to empower the Iranian people with news and information otherwise denied to them by the mullahs. Iranians suffer from heavily censored media; what they need is accurate and honest reporting. VOA Persian should be driving the news about human rights in Iran, corruption among the Iranian regime and analysis that counters propaganda rather than propagating it. If it can’t meet these standards — and soon — Congress should consider ending its funding and shutting down VOA Persian as a fiduciary duty to American taxpayers.

Brian Hook is the US special representative for Iran and a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Press Release    |    May 4, 2020

Washington—Today, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives called on the Trump Administration to extend the United Nations arms embargo on Iran, which is set to expire in October of this year. In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel and Ranking Member Michael T. McCaul, Representative Stephanie Murphy, and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick led a group of 387 members encouraging robust diplomacy to prevent the expiration of the embargo and of U.N. travel restrictions on Iranians engaged in proliferation activities. The group of members—more than three quarters of the House—underscored that permitting Iran to buy and sell weapons would pose a grave risk to security and stability around the world.

Chairman Engel said, “The U.N. arms embargo will be the first provision of the Iran nuclear deal to expire. This letter, supported overwhelmingly by both parties in the House, represents an imperative to reauthorize this provision—not through snapback or going it alone, but through a careful diplomatic campaign. The Trump Administration has promised a better deal and it falls to the administration to solve this crisis, not make it worse. Iran continues to be a danger to the United States, our interests, and our allies. We need a realistic and practical strategy to prevent Iran from becoming a greater menace.”

Ranking Member McCaul said, “Nearly every member of the U.S. House of Representatives is in agreement: Iran must not be allowed to buy or sell weapons. This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue, or even just an American issue. We need to extend the U.N. arms embargo on Iran for the sake of international peace and security. I am proud the House is speaking with one voice to protect the world against Iran’s aggressive and destabilizing behavior.”

Representative Murphy said, “Preventing the regime in Tehran from buying and selling weapons is critical for U.S. national security and for the security of U.S. allies and partners in the greater Middle East. We all look forward to the time when Iran will become a responsible member of the community of nations. Until then, we must take all reasonable steps at the national and international level to curb Iranian aggression.”

Representative Fitzpatrick said, “Time and time again, Iran has shown that they cannot be trusted. Their efforts to destabilize the region and the world will only increase if we do not extend the U.N. embargo.  Iran must be prohibited from buying and selling weapons, and moreover, we must prevent Iran from increasing their influence in the region.  I am proud to lead a bipartisan coalition on this urgent issue, and I am encouraged to see so many of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle add their voice in support of this critical national security matter.”

Full text of the letter can be found here.




Amnesty International    |     April 9, 2020

Around 36 prisoners in Iran are feared to have been killed by security forces after the use of lethal force to control protests over COVID-19 safety fears, Amnesty International has learned.

In recent days, thousands of prisoners in at least eight prisons around the country have staged protests over fears of contracting the coronavirus, sparking deadly responses from prison officers and security forces.

In several prisons, live ammunition and tear gas were used to suppress protests, killing around 35 prisoners and injuring hundreds of others, according to credible sources. In at least one prison, security forces beat those taking part in the protest action, possibly leading to the death of an inmate.

“It is abhorrent that instead of responding to prisoners’ legitimate demands to be protected from COVID-19, Iranian authorities have yet again resorted to killing people to silence their concerns,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director of Middle East and North Africa.

“An independent investigation into the torture and deaths in custody is urgently needed with a view to bringing to justice those found responsible.

“Security forces must be instructed to immediately cease the use of unlawful lethal force, and to refrain from punishing prisoners calling for their right to health.”

It is abhorrent that instead of responding to prisoners’ legitimate demands to be protected from COVID-19, Iranian authorities have yet again resorted to killing people to silence their concerns

Diana Eltahawy

Amnesty International is also calling on Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners held solely for peacefully exercising their rights. Despite some initial releases, the Iranian authorities have failed to release the vast majority of prisoners of conscience, hundreds of whom remain in prison. The authorities should also consider releasing prisoners held in pre-trial detention or those who may be more at risk from the virus.

Prison protests during COVID-19 pandemic

In recent weeks, prisoners and their families have been raising the alarm that the Iranian authorities have failed to sufficiently protect the prison population during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Independent media and human rights organizations have reported that inmates from several prisons have tested positive for the virus. Consequently, many prisoners have staged hunger strikes in protest at the authorities’ failure to respond to their demands for releases, testing in prisons, provision of adequate sanitary products and facilities, and the quarantining of prisoners suspected of infection.

Killing of prisoners

On 30 March and 31 March, according to independent sources including prisoners’ families, security forces used excessive force to quell protests in Sepidar prison and Sheiban prison in the city of Ahvaz, Khuzestan province. The head of the police force in Khuzestan province admitted that members of the Revolutionary Guards and the paramilitary Basij force suppressed the protests after some inmates set rubbish bins on fire.

The protests in Sepidar prison appear to have started after authorities reneged on earlier promises to release prisoners who the authorities do not have specific security concerns about as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Numerous videos taken from outside both prisons and shared on social media show smoke rising from the buildings, while sounds of gunfire and screams can be heard.

Reports from families of prisoners, as well as journalists and Ahwazi Arab human rights activists and organizations, suggest that security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to end the protests in Sepidar prison, causing injuries and up to 15 deaths.

Relatives of a prisoner killed in Sepidar prison told Amnesty International, upon condition of anonymity, that several days after the protests, they were called by a member of the police force and instructed to collect the dead body of their loved one. The police claimed he had died from a drug overdose, even though the family insists he had never used drugs. The authorities have refused to provide the family with a death certificate or with any other written confirmation of the cause of death. As the deceased prisoner had no pre-existing medical conditions, his family suspect he died as a result of inhaling tear gas during the protest.

In Sheiban prison, journalists and activists reported that after the unrest was contained by security forces, prisoners who took part in the protests were stripped and beaten in the courtyard of the prison. Around 20 prisoners were killed by security forces, according to reports from prisoners’ families, journalists and Ahwazi Arab human rights activists and organizations.

Minority rights activist Mohammad Ali Amouri and several others were transferred out of Sheiban prison following the unrest and are still being held incommunicado in an unknown location. Amnesty International fears they may be at risk of torture.

Teenager on death row killed

Danial Zeinolabedini, who was on death row for a crime committed when he was under the age of 18, also died under suspicious circumstances in the past week. He had been taking part in the protests in Mahabad prison, West Azerbaijan province, when he was transferred to Mianboad prison in the same province, on 30 March. Danial Zeinolabedini called his family in distress on 31 March to say he had been severely beaten by prison guards and to beg them for help.

On 3 April, his family received a call from the authorities claiming that he had committed suicide and ordering them to collect his body. However, his family has disputed this claim, stating that his lifeless body was covered in bruises and cuts. Amnesty International has reviewed a photograph of Danial Zeinolabedini’s body and believes it shows signs that are consistent with torture.

Bloomberg    |    Bobby Ghosh    |    March 13, 2020

Iranians need assistance in the fight against coronavirus, but their government can’t be trusted with money.

Talk about theocratic temerity. The regime in Tehran is calling on the International Monetary Fund to “stand on the right side of history” by giving Iran $5 billion to fight the coronavirus pandemic. It’s the first time the Islamic Republic has sought financial aid from the multilateral institution. (The last time Iran asked was 20 years before the 1979 revolution.)

For the international community — and for the U.S., which has effective veto power on IMF decisions — this presents a quandary: The Iranian people definitely need the help, but their leaders can’t be trusted with the money.

The Islamic Republic is the third-worst hit country after China and Italy, with 429 people dead. The regime has manifestly failed to manage the crisis. In the first phase, the leadership lied about the extent of the outbreak, and made a series of decisions that only aggravated the contagion.

Now, Iran’s medical system is overwhelmed, and its population may be more vulnerable than those of other virus-hit countries. And its porous borders with countries in the Middle East and Central Asia endanger the entire neighborhood.

Clearly, the world can’t stand by while Iran suffers. But it’s not at all clear that giving the regime $5 billion will mitigate these problems.

For one thing, the Iranians continue to dissimulate about the crisis: everything, from statistical logic to satellite images of massive grave sites, suggests it is worse than Tehran is prepared to admit. Although several well-known political and religious figures have contracted the virus, there remains a remarkable lack of seriousness on the subject among the leadership. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claims the virus is a biological weapon aimed at the Islamic Republic.

Others in the Iranian government blame the contagion on the standard dog-ate-my-homework excuse for all regime failings: American economic sanctions. This is nonsense. It was President Hassan Rouhani, not Donald Trump, who prevented authorities from locking down the city of Qom when the outbreak first occurred there. No American restrictions required Iranian airlines to keep operating flights to and from China long after other countries had stopped doing so. And while the Trump administration may be underplaying the coronavirus scare in the U.S., it did not compel Iranian hospitals to conceal data.

It’s worth remembering that the regime hasn’t allowed the economic sanctions to stop its support of the genocidal regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which runs into billions of dollars. Nor is Tehran too hard-up to keep its many proxy militias and terrorist groups across the Middle East in cigarettes and rockets, to the tune of $16 billion.

Given the regime’s well-established propensities, there is reason to fear that large proportions of any financial aid to fight the virus will either be diverted to the likes of Hezbollah and Hamas, or line the commodious pockets of klepto-theocrats like Khamenei.

The solution, then, is to give the regime all manner of help, without giving it any money directly.

First, any assistance should be conditional on Iran allowing multilateral agencies such as the World Health Organization take charge of the fight against the virus. Having badly bungled its own efforts, it can hardly argue that Iranians should be in charge.

The IMF should then create, with American blessings, a $5 billion fund, strictly for use by these multilateral agencies. The money can pay for medical equipment and supplies, and expenses linked to any non-Iranian personnel required for the effort.

Tehran should keep paying for its own medical staff. It can also use the recently-opened Swiss banking channel to import additional humanitarian supplies as necessary.

This arrangement may be the best way to get help to Iranians without enabling the worst instincts of their leaders. There may still be some room for the regime to misuse non-cash assistance — we should not be surprised to discover Hezbollah flogging ventilators on the black market, for instance. But at least, the IMF will be able to argue, in good faith, that it is “on the right side of history.”


Amnesty International    |    March 4, 2020

An investigation by Amnesty International has uncovered evidence that at least 23 children were killed by Iranian security forces in the nationwide protests in November last year.

At least 22 of the children were shot dead by Iranian security forces unlawfully firing live ammunition at unarmed protesters and bystanders, according to the findings.

The children killed include 22 boys, aged between 12 and 17, and a girl reportedly aged between eight and 12. Details of their deaths are included in a new Amnesty International briefing, ‘They shot our children’ – Killings of minors in Iran’s November 2019 protests.

“In recent months an increasingly gruesome picture has emerged of the extent to which Iranian security forces unlawfully used lethal force to crush last year’s nationwide protests. However, it is still devastating to learn that the number of children who fell victim to this brutality is so shockingly high,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

There must be independent and impartial investigations into these killings, and those suspected of ordering and carrying them out must be prosecuted in fair trials 

Philip Luther

“There must be independent and impartial investigations into these killings, and those suspected of ordering and carrying them out must be prosecuted in fair trials.”

Amnesty International has gathered evidence from videos and photographs, as well as death and burial certificates, accounts from eyewitnesses and victims’ relatives, friends and acquaintances on the ground, and information gathered from human rights activists and journalists.

In 10 cases, Amnesty International learned from the description of injuries on the death or burial certificates it reviewed, or information from credible sources, that the deaths occurred as a result of gunshots to the head or torso – indicating that the security forces were shooting to kill.

In two of the cases, burial certificates set out in detail the devastating impact on the children’s bodies. One cited injuries including bleeding, a crushed brain and a shattered skull. The other indicated that the cause of the death was extensive internal bleeding, and a pierced heart and lung.

In one child’s case, there are conflicting reports on the cause of death, with one referring to fatal head injuries sustained by beatings by security forces and another referring to the firing of metal pellets at the victim’s face from a close distance.

Twelve of the 23 deaths recorded by Amnesty International took place on 16 November, a further eight on 17 November, and three on 18 November. The protests started on 15 November.

The 23 children are recorded as having been killed in 13 cities in six provinces across the country (Esfahan, Fars, Kermanshah, Khuzestan, Kurdistan and Tehran), reflecting the widespread nature of the bloody crackdown.

“The fact that the vast majority of the children’s deaths took place over just two days is further evidence that Iranian security forces went on a killing spree to quash dissent at any cost,” said Philip Luther.

“As the Iranian authorities have refused to open independent, impartial and effective investigations, it is imperative that member states of the UN Human Rights Council mandate an inquiry into the killings of protesters and bystanders, including these children, in the November protests.”

On 25 February, Amnesty International wrote to Iran’s Minister of Interior Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli to provide him with the list of the names of the 23 children recorded as killed, along with their ages and places of death, and to seek the authorities’ comments on the circumstances of their death. As of 3 March, the organization had received no response.

State cover-up and harassment

Amnesty International spoke to relatives of some the children killed who described being subjected to harassment and intimidation, including surveillance and interrogations by intelligence and security officials. At least one family received veiled death threats against their surviving children, and were warned that “something horrible” would also happen to them if they spoke out.

This corresponds with a broader issue where families of those killed in protests are being intimidated by the state from talking openly about their deaths. Most have reported being forced to sign undertakings that they would not speak to the media, and observe restrictions on how they commemorate their loved ones in order to be able to receive their bodies. In many cases, security and intelligence officials have placed the families under surveillance, and attended their funeral and memorial ceremonies in order to ensure that the restrictions are observed.

Families of children killed also reported being forced to bury them quickly in the presence of security and intelligence officials, thereby preventing them from seeking an independent autopsy. Such conduct appears aimed at suppressing incriminating evidence.

In general, Amnesty International’s research has found that the families of those killed in protests have been consistently excluded from autopsies undertaken by the state forensic institute and denied access to information on the circumstances of their deaths, including details of the ammunition that killed them and the weapon that fired it.

In some cases, officials washed and prepared the bodies of victims for burial without notifying their families and then handed them the bodies, wrapped in shrouds, just minutes before the scheduled burial. Amnesty International understands that in these cases, security and intelligence officials generally sought to prevent families from pulling back the shrouds to see the bodies of their loved ones. As a result, some families say they were not able to see the impact of injuries.

In other cases, authorities have also refused to hand over the belongings of the victims to their relatives, including their phones, raising suspicions that they worried these contained evidence of unlawful actions by the state.

As if the loss of their loved ones was not cruel enough an experience to bear, families of children killed during the protests are facing a ruthless campaign of harassment to intimidate them from speaking out 

Philip Luther

“As if the loss of their loved ones was not cruel enough an experience to bear, families of children killed during the protests are facing a ruthless campaign of harassment to intimidate them from speaking out,” said Philip Luther.

“The authorities also seem to be desperate to prevent bereaved relatives finding out the full truth about the killings, and getting hold of evidence that would incriminate those responsible. This bears all the hallmarks of a state cover-up.”


Protests erupted in Iran on 15 November 2019 following a sudden government announcement about a fuel price hike. According to credible reports compiled by Amnesty International, at least 304 people were killed and thousands injured between 15 and 18 November as authorities crushed the protests using lethal force. During and following the protests, the Iranian authorities arbitrarily detained thousands of detainees and subjected some to enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment.