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Crackdown on Khuzestan Protests: Grim Face of Systematic Impunity in Iran

Protests in Khuzestan province over water shortages - July 2021

The new series of protests started in Khuzestan province on July 14 to water shortages. The nature of protests soon changed, with people calling for regime change and chanting slogans such as “death to the dictator.”  

In response, the Iranian regime opened fire on crowds. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) published the names of 12 martyrs of the Khuzestan uprising and other cities that rose to support Khuzestan.  

As protests continue to intensify in Khuzestan and spread across Iran, the regime also increases its oppressive measures to quell the restive society. But in recent days, state-run media acknowledged that increasing oppression would only add to the people’s hatred.  

The state-run Jahan-e Sanat daily on July 25 warned officials who “create new crises with their approach to the current crises.”    

“The result of such behavior is to confront the people with the system and the police, and they consider this as an immediate solution. Experience shows that officials would not solve water and livelihood crisis this way,” Jahan-e Sanat adds.  

 Besides, several international organizations have called for the immediate halt of human rights abuses in Iran.  

On July 23, Amnesty International released a statement underlining that “Iran’s security forces have deployed unlawful force, including by firing live ammunition and birdshot, to crush mostly peaceful protests taking place across the southern province of Khuzestan.” 

“Using live ammunition against unarmed protesters posing no imminent threat to life is a horrifying violation of the authorities’ obligation to protect human life. Protesters in Iran who take to the streets to voice legitimate economic and political grievances face a barrage of gunfire, tear gas, and arrests,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. 

Ms. Eltahawy underlined that “Iran’s authorities have a harrowing track record of using unlawful lethal force. The events unfolding in Khuzestan have chilling echoes of November 2019, when security forces unlawfully killed hundreds of protesters and bystanders but were never held to account. Ending impunity is vital for preventing further bloodshed.”  

The regime’s record of human rights violations goes back to the early 1980s when the authorities started a systematic purge of the opposition members and supporters. The regime’s primary target was the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). This systematic purge of the MEK supporters reached its peak in the summer of 1988 when the regime executed over 30,000 political prisoners. Most of these prisoners were MEK supporters and members.  

The international community has so far refused to investigate 1988. This failure has given the regime a sense of impunity, as it has promoted the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre to top positions. 

Seven United Nations Human Rights Experts confirmed this fact in their letter to the regime in September 2020, which was published in December 2020, when the regime refused to answer a question about the 1988 massacre. The U.N. experts underlined that the international community’s failure to act had a devastating impact on the survivors and families as well as on the general situation of human rights in Iran and emboldened Iran to continue to conceal the fate of the victims and to maintain a strategy of deflection and denial that continue to date.” This devastating impact became evident during the major Iran protests in 2019 and the recent protests in Khuzestan when authorities killed, arrested, and tortured peaceful protesters. The rising trend of human rights violations also underlines the systematic impunity the regime officials enjoy.

The recent selection of Ebrahim Raisi, one of the main perpetrators of the 1988 massacre as president, is a sign of the systematic impunity in the regime. In response to Raisi’s selection,  Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard underlined that his presidency “is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.” 

This impunity should end, or it would certainly have a consecutive devastating impact on the Iranian people’s life. The international community should hold the regime to account for the recent human rights violation in Khuzestan and the 1988 massacre. This would certainly end the regime’s grim human rights violations.