Last Year’s Deadly Gasoline Protests Come to Haunt Iran


A number of months after Iran experienced deadly nationwide protests in response to a hike in gasoline prices, international human rights organizations, the United States, and even Iran’s parliamentarians are now holding the perpetrators of the harsh crackdown on protestors  accountable.

According to Amnesty International, Iranian authorities made false statements about the protests to avoid accountability. Protestors were called “rioters” or “suspicious agents” and enemies of the state who intended to  oust the Iranian  government.

The United States imposed new sanctions against Iran on May 20 for  violating Iranian citizenship rights. They were imposed after Amnesty International said it had reason to believe that the shooting order on protesters came from  Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli.

The scale of the November 2019 protests, extending to  100 cities and towns,  has pushed even Iran’s Parliament to demand answers from the Iranian government.  Ali Motahari, an outspoken parliamentarian, also identified Fazli as the main culprit in the violent crackdown on  protestors.

However, member of Parliament Mohammad Javad Kolivand said the Interior Ministry was not the main culprit  in the crackdown but that other ministries and state bodies were involved in  managing the protests, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Ministry of Intelligence. In a publicized response, Fazli claimed that his actions prevented  attacks on public property, food storage sites and security offices. According to the minister, more than 140 government sites were attacked during the protests. He added that the Interior Ministry was asked to respond to the so-called riots, but the decision for this rested with Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).

 However, the  SNSC is not willing  to take  responsibility for the crackdown and there is evidence suggesting that the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had ordered security agencies  to end the protests once they had reached the capital Tehran on November 17. On December 3, Iranian state television  acknowledged that the country’s security forces had shot at the protesters. Earlier on November 20, President Hassan Rouhani claimed victory over the unrest.  An individual sanctioned by the United States, Brigadier Hossein Ashtari, claimed that the “sedition” was silenced within 48-72 hours.

Reports released six months after the protests  indicate that Iran still has not disclosed  the  real death toll,  the perpetrators of the violence  continue to  enjoy impunity, and the Iranian government  refuses to acknowledge  the role of the IRGC and intelligence apparatuses  in the crackdown on protesters. Qasim Mirzai Niko, another parliamentarian, revealed that elective bodies including the Parliament came under heavy security surveillance to deter parliamentarians from  discussing  the number killed during the crackdown.

A recently released Amnesty report says 220 deaths occurred in two days, based on a shoot-to-kill policy adopted by the Iranian government. In all but four cases, victims were shot dead by Iran’s security forces. In a final count, Amnesty International says more than 300 were killed including children and students, while other reports suggest 15,000 were killed. Amnesty has  demanded justice for the victims of the Iranian killing spree.

In Mahshahr Port,  Khuzestan province, the worst crackdown occurred when an exchange of gunfire   happened between protestors and security forces. In Karaj,  protestors were fired at from rooftops.

In response, the US sanctioned Fazli, who  was in effect Iran’s acting commander in chief during the protests in November 2019.  According to Iran’s Minister of Information, Mohammad Javad Jahromi, Fazli  was responsible for disconnecting the internet. Some 80 million Iranians had no access to the internet for a week while the protests were silenced.

Washington’s  latest sanctions target Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces (LEF), 12 senior officials, and three state institutions including prisons and detention centers. Still, Tehran is defiant over its actions. The Guardian Council has rejected the sanctions, while a group of parliamentarians  supported Fazli by thanking him for his efforts  in quelling the riots.

But the bitter wrangling in Iran over who should take responsibility for the harsh crackdown on protesters is ongoing. In a tweet, Motahari said  Fazli’s answers to questions in Parliament concerning his actions  during the protests were unconvincing despite facing  an impeachment threat.  

Fazli rejects the point that  a large number of  parliamentarians  want him to be impeached. He has said  that he will take action against Motahari if  he is unable to  provide evidence of his misconduct during the protests in November 2019.  Iran’s “hardliners” in Parliament warned Motahari about questioning the  actions of Fazli  during the protests.

Motahari believes Fazli  should have opened up communication channels with the protestors for at least a month instead of launching  a crackdown immediately.

Given these realities, the latest US sanctions are not enough to alter Tehran’s lethal behavior. But the sanctions along  with reports by international human right organizations  increase the pressure on Iran. These reports shed  light on the heavy-handed approach of Iran’s  security forces during the protests, while the new US sanctions  signal a strong desire by Washington  to ramp up its battle with Tehran.

Editorial Team