Non-military employees and staffers from the Revolutionary Guards’ construction arm, including accountants and lay office employees, were drafted in to suppress November 2019 protests in Tehran, a witness has told the Aban Tribunal.
Speaking from behind a mask and dark glasses, the man identified as Witness 367 said he was an ex-contractor for the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters: a massive engineering firm that receives lucrative government contracts for building and infrastructure projects.
When protests got under way on November 16, he said, “since the IRGC needed forces”, about 30 individuals including laborers, accountants and office workers were conscripted to fight alongside armed officers “so they could show they were bigger in number”.
Witness 367 was fired just days later for disobeying orders and now lives in Switzerland. He told the court: “I thought as a witness, I may be able to take a very small step in revealing the nature of this regime.
“This [task] was forcefully accepted. Whatever job opportunity you get you have to accept. You can’t just say ‘I will not follow orders’. They might ask you to kill an individual and when you’re an official employee of the IRGC, a driver, a chef, or whatever, you have to follow orders.”
The construction workers were equipped with helmets and various types of weapons, which Witness 367 said he couldn’t identify, and stationed in the busy shopping boulevard of Valiasr Street. They were told in a briefing on Saturday, November 15 to use restraint. But on Sunday, he said, the situation had escalated and shots were being fired at protesters.
Witness 267’s cohort had first been told to “flood the streets” and disperse crowds; later the order changed to “military action”. In his team’s case, that meant following the lead of IRGC commanders. “The [Supreme] Leader issued an order for people to be suppressed,” he said. “We were part of the forces, contractual or otherwise. If you enter one of these types of units you accept that you’re a soldier.”
The witness said he saw people being gunned down in the streets, and could see snipers stationed on the roofs of administrative buildings, with firearms that had long scopes and cameras. Since he was on the “bad side”, he said, he could not tell if those who were shot survived or not. Despite the orders the group had received, he said, he decided to defect. “They’d ordered us to kill people. I would have gone for a bank robbery.
“When the protests got really dire I was adversely affected. I’m against any type of conflict. When I saw it was getting out of hand, I and my colleagues left the place. We threw our helmets and the things they had given us in a semi-finished building and left. Our supervisor saw it.”
On the Monday, all those who had quit Valiasr Street were disciplined and sacked. At least one of them was taken to court. Though Witness 367 has since left Iran, he expressed anxiety for his family still inside the country.
While in central Tehran, he said, he and colleagues had also seen IRGC officers with “trivial” injuries from clashes being piled into ambulances, while injured protesters were left without medical care. He also testified that IRGC and plainclothes forces had been vandalising property, breaking the glass of shop fronts.
“I never saw them burn any banks,” he said, “but the supermarket door was open and they had got to work. I saw them throw stones, break windows, and attack cars. Poor people live there and if their car windscreen is smashed that would be hugely damaging.
“They were trying to destroy property. That wasn’t being done by ordinary people. I saw them do it time and time again. They had no fear in doing so.”