The final day of proceedings in London on Sunday saw a former senior IRGC official and two serving law enforcement officers testify to their own involvement in the bloody suppression of civilian protests that month.
Witness 600, previously of the IRGC, only contacted the panel on Saturday and his identity was verified by Aban Tribunal researchers in an exhaustive interview process. He introduced himself as one of the perpetrators of arbitrary arrests and interrogations during November 2019, saying he now regretted it.
The witness confirmed that the IRGC’s elite Saberin Unit and the Basij’s Imam Ali Brigade were tasked specifically with neutralizing popular unrest. Personnel from the “dreadful” Saberin, he said, trained and took part in drills in Syria and Lebanon in preparation for the “final encounter”.
Importantly, Witness 600 said the numbers of arrests and civilian deaths were much higher than had been independently verified so far. Between 7,000 and 8,000 people were detained in Tehran alone, he said, and more than 420 people in Khuzestan and 410 in Tehran had been killed on Saturday, November 17. The largest number of deaths overall, he said, took place in Lorestan, Khuzestan and Alborz.
Witness 600 also corroborated what a Basij member had said the day before: that young children were recruited by the paramilitary force and had been given military-grade weapons. He named Vahid Haqqanian, political affairs chief and deputy head of security at the Office of the Supreme Leader, as having been a key driving force behind the suppression: it was he, the witness said, who related to the IRGC the order to “wrap up” the protests.
Witness 418 recently left the police force after acting as a sniper during the November 2019 protests. He told the Aban Tribunal he wanted to “bring to book” those in the security forces that had committed crimes. “Fortunately my friends and colleagues didn’t shoot anyone,” he said, “but there were individuals who didn’t care and exploited their uniforms to attack people.”
Another in the police’s security division, Witness 601, appeared via videolink in his uniform and was testifying at great personal risk. On the Saturday, he said, he was given a Kalashnikov and 180 bullets, and was told to fire on a crowd outside the police headquarters. “There were 200 or 300 people in the street,” he said. “One person had fallen close to the gate; there was blood around his head. My colleague said ‘The guy wanted to climb over the gate. I shot him in the head so he’ll be a lesson to the others.’ I couldn’t tolerate so much violence and blood. I went downstairs and sat down crying.”
In an echo of a police major who spoke in the first hearing last November, Witness 601 said he was interrogated, beaten and finally suspended from duty for 30 days for failing to follow the illegal orders. Asked why he believed they received such an order, he said: “The governor and various authorities wanted to disperse the protests as quickly as possible. I believe it could have been much more peaceful but an order came from the top.”
“I Won’t Allow his Bravery to be Buried With Him”
On the eighth and final day of sittings at Church House, the panel of legal experts also heard from two sets of witnesses directly affected by the bloodshed in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province. Sisters Maria and Zahra Saedpanah testified together in person, describing the chaos as security forces beat people in the street in a fog of tear gas. Maria passed out, and Zahra was shot with a rubber bullet.
“Some people had masks on so they wouldn’t be identified,” Zahra told the panel. “Suddenly we saw them all put their hands in their pockets. They pulled out stones and bricks and started throwing them at people.” One middle-aged woman, she said, was struck in the head and fell. “Her son was shouting and crying next to his mother’s body.
“I saw with my own eyes that they were beating people. I begged them not to. I even threw myself under their feet. They listened to me, but then I realised my sister was being beaten with a hose and had fallen on the ground. They hit my hand and it swelled up. I saw people were being taken away and thrown inside the governor’s office. Then they closed the doors.”
Witness 499 was also on the streets in Sanandaj in the first three days of the protests. Some 500 people had packed into Enghelab Square, he said, but the only things people threw at security forces were garbage and stones while officers fired indiscriminately at them with live ammunition. “I saw people fall to the ground,” he said. “There was blood everywhere.”
The same man said he witnessed the arrest of Kaveh Veysani, a 30-year-old Kurdish man understood to have died under torture. Veysani, he said, had left behind a pregnant wife. “I’m grateful to mention the name of Kaveh here,” he said, “and to not allow his bravery to be buried with him.”
Thanking the tribunal organizers, he added: “The Iranian people know that they’re not alone anymore. These incidents aren’t just related to Aban. Thousands of people have been the victims of crimes.”
Iranian State Accused of Crimes Against Humanity
The Aban Tribunal file is now closed and no further hearings will be held. The six-strong panel will now consider the evidence of crimes against humanity and human rights violations in November 2019, as put to them by co-counsel Hamid Sabi and Regina Paulose. “The counsel’s case,” Sabi told the panel, “is that the actions taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran, its leadership, members of the cabinet, the president, military officers, governors, were illegal under any standard. It was widespread and systemic. The Iranian state, like any other, is responsible for the conduct of its functionaries at all levels. At no time have any of the perpetrators been punished for the crimes.”
The findings will not create any legal obligation by themselves, but could be used as a basis for future litigation. A verdict is expected to be delivered in April.