Iranian’s calls for accountability for killing protesters

Two of the detained young men killed themselves, and another was a terrorist who died in a clash with security forces, Iran’s government officials have declared with finality. But in an extraordinary display of audacity, many Iranians, including a number of lawmakers and a top entertainment star, have assailed such conclusions.

The three young men were among more than two dozen Iranians who died in the wave of antigovernment protests that swept the country a few weeks ago, the most serious unrest to confront the Islamic republic’s political-religious hierarchy in nearly a decade.

The men’s personal stories that have since emerged have struck a nerve among many Iranians, who see glaring contradictions in the official accounts of the facts.

Their push for further investigation, including a parliamentary demand for an inquiry into the prison deaths, suggests that while the protests have largely subsided, the fallout in Iran may be just beginning.

“This news of so-called suicides is making people angry; they demand answers,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, an analyst close to the government of President Hassan Rouhani.

It is unclear whether the anger signals a potent new complication for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who as Iran’s supreme leader was a target of some of the protests, which began over economic grievances and quickly broadened.

But the willingness by members of mainstream Iranian society to publicly repudiate the narrative of the top judicial authorities is unusual in this country of 80 million, where such behavior can be risky and invite retribution.

Iran’s judicial authorities, in an update on Sunday about the aftermath of the protests and government response, said a total of 25 people had died and nearly 4,000 had been arrested. They also said that hundreds had been released, including 500 in Tehran.

The national prosecutor, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, said at a news conference in Tehran that “none of the bullets” found in those killed had matched types used by Iran’s law enforcement officers and military. Those who died in detention, he said, had “committed suicide.”

President Rouhani, who has defended the right of peaceful protest, on Sunday appeared to lend support to the doubters of such claims.

He extended his rebukes of hard-liners over the protests after an influential Friday Prayer leader called the protesters “garbage.” The prayer leader, Kazem Sadighi, later retracted his words.

Mr. Rouhani called upon the establishment to listen to the protesters, not demean them.

“We cannot call everybody who takes to the streets dirt and dust, cow, sheep or trash,” he said in a speech broadcast on state television. “What manner of talking is this? Why do we insult? Why do we treat our society impolitely?”

While acknowledging that some people exploited protester anger to stoke mayhem, Mr. Rouhani said, “it happens everywhere.”

On Saturday the authorities lifted a ban on the popular phone messaging app Telegram, which is used by more than 40 million Iranians. Its use had been suppressed by Iran’s National Security Council to stop the spreading of news about the protests. Mr. Rouhani, who as president officially heads the council, said on Sunday that “blocking is not a solution.”

Telegram users quickly began to share skepticism about the judiciary accounts of the prison deaths.

One of the dead, Vahid Heidari, a street peddler, had been trying to make a living in Arak, a city in central Iran. He was arrested on New Year’s Eve during the protests. The judicial authorities insist that he was seized for possession of drugs. A lawyer for his family, Mohammad Najafi, denies this.

The local prosecutor for the city, Abbas Qassemi, told the Mizan news agency, which is affiliated with the judiciary, that video footage showed Mr. Heidari stabbing himself with a knife. But the video was never released and Mr. Qassemi did not explain how Mr. Heidari had possessed a knife in his cell.

In Tehran’s Evin Prison, Sina Ghanbari, 23, a student, hanged himself in a bathroom on Jan. 6, the judicial authorities say. He had been held with other protesters, but it has not been made clear whether he had also protested.

A group of lawmakers on Sunday called for an investigation into the deaths of both men, the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported. The members of Parliament say an inquiry is needed because “relatives and eyewitnesses” have questioned the official claims that the two killed themselves.

Source » nytimes

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