The months-long nationwide protests in Iran demanding fundamental structural reforms to make the government more accountable underline the “grave risks” for autocracies of imagining that brutal repression will bring stability, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says in its annual world report on human rights.
Protests erupted across Iran after the September death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, following her arrest by Tehran’s morality police for allegedly wearing an “improper” hijab.
But HRW says the protests against the mandatory use of the headscarf and demands for equality triggered by women and schoolgirls has morphed into a widespread movement by the Iranian people against “a government that has systematically denied them their rights, mismanaged the economy, and driven people into poverty.”
The Islamic Republic has “ruthlessly” cracked down on the demonstrations with “excessive and lethal force, followed by sham trials and death sentences for those who dare challenge the government’s authority,” the nongovernmental organization says.
HRW documented security forces using shotguns, assault rifles, and handguns against largely peaceful demonstrators, resulting in the death of more than 500 people, according to activists.
The authorities have detained more than 18,000 people, including hundreds of human rights defenders, students, women’s rights activists, lawyers, journalists, and summoned and interrogated dozens of actors, athletes, and other public figures after they expressed support for the protestors’ demands.
Scores have been sentenced on “vague national-security charges, while the authorities failed to investigate reports of abuse or torture by police and security forces, HRW says.
Dozens of people have been handed capital punishment or are facing charges that carry a death sentence. The Islamic Republic has executed four young men in connection with the protests so far, triggering international condemnation.
Meanwhile, the authorities have “heavily disrupted” Internet access in large parts of Iran and “blocked or periodically” disrupted access to social media and messaging platforms to quash the protest movement.