Evidence of excessive use of force against protesters in Isfahan

“Let Isfahan breathe, give Zayandeh-rud back”

Beginning Friday, November 19, thousands of civilians assembled and protested in the dried-up stretches of Iran’s river Zayandeh-rud. These protests come just months after protests erupted in Iran’s southern province of Khuzestan over resource mismanagement leading to water shortages and economic disparity. Protesters in Khuzestan, and those that stood in solidarity with them across the country, were met with violent suppression including lethal force and mass arbitrary detentions. Protesters in Isfahan now face a similar struggle over shared concerns. “Water, or rather lack thereof, remains a recurring theme across Iran. Years of mismanagement have culminated in dried-up riverbeds as well as the inability to adequately water crops or livestock which is directly affecting livelihoods. Without attention to the root cause of unrest, one can expect these events to continue. Rather than meeting protesters with barbarous levels of violence and empty promises, Iranian officials must hear the pleas of the people and seek a solution. Not a short-term solution that will surely lead to greater disparity, but real tangible change,” says Skylar Thompson, HRA Senior Advocacy Coordinator. 

Excessive use of force

As unrest in Isfahan continues into the tenth day, protesters are met with excessive use of force by police and security forces. Videos sent directly to HRA along with in-depth investigation over the past 10 days reveal the use of widespread and inhumane suppression tactics by police, IRGC, Basij, and the intelligence ministry. 

Police were recorded making what can arguably be seen as threats. One video shows police urging “those who came to watch, leave now. There are enemies among you […] Don’t make water an excuse, please leave this place quickly. […] you don’t want anyone to be hurt.” While another text message sent to citizens in the area from the Deputy of Crime Prevention of Justice of Isfahan Province read: “Dear fellow-citizen, Considering your presence at the location of unrest, and the possibility of being injured, please quickly leave and avoid passing through this area.”

Several videos capture audible evidence of live ammunition.  In one instance, a woman can be seen seemingly lying lifeless on the ground. Live ammunition can be heard nearby as crowds shout, “They shot her! Pick her up!” Such tactics fly in the face of Iran’s obligations under international human rights law, namely the right to life. Several videos, like those from which the still images below are derived, depict protesters having been shot in the face while seemingly unarmed. Another video (video 1) shows an individual bleeding heavily from his face as he attempts to clean a wound. HRA condemns in the strongest terms the use of live ammunition, including bird shots, against protesters posing no imminent threat to life or security. 

The images below were taken from a video independently verified by HRA. An unarmed individual in the one video is heard saying “It was the police” as they hold a wound over their injured eye. HRA-SJ (HRA Spreading Justice Initiative), through a thorough examination of video and photo evidence,  additionally confirmed the use of tasers, tear gas, water cannons, and batons against protesters in Isfahan from November 19-November 29. The use of additional means cannot be ruled out at this time. 

video 1

In another video (video 2), police can be seen storming a group of unarmed protesters, seemingly beating those that did not immediately disperse, live ammunition can also be heard. 

video 2

At least 19 of the many injured protesters are hospitalized due to injuries to the eye, as seen in the images above. Official reports indicate 2 of the injured are in critical condition. The injuries are further evidence of excessive use of force against protesters. In solidarity with those injured, people around Iran have posted photos of themselves with bandages covering their eyes.

Arbitrary arrests

Since the outbreak of unrest on November 19, HRA-SJ has documented the arrest of 214 protesters, including 13 minors. A number of arrestees were released upon agreeing to discontinue protest activity. The identities of these individuals were documented and their identification documents were confiscated prior to release. While a number were released, others were transferred to Isfahan prison, Khomeini Shahr prison, and the Women’s prison of Isfahan. The whereabouts of some detainees remain unknown at the time of writing. It is possible that these individuals are being held in a security detention center. Officials should immediately make known the whereabouts of all of those within their custody as provided for under international law and take steps to release all individuals arbitrarily detained as a result of their participation in protests. 

Call for accountability 

HRA is deeply disturbed by the ongoing situation of violence in Isfahan. The ongoing use of excessive force amounting to a loss of life and unnecessary injury is of serious concern. According to the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, “Governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense under their law.” In light of Iran’s unwillingness to ensure this type of accountability, HRA is calling on the international community to condemn the ongoing use of force against civilians and ensure those responsible are held accountable. 

Reports of internet disruptions/shutdowns must also be condemned. Iran’s repeated use of internet disruptions/shutdowns is a deliberate attempt to mask the true extent of violence used against protesters and disrupt the free flow of information. Internet disruptions continue at the time of writing. 

“As we close out a month of remembrance for the lives lost at the hands of Iranian officials during the November 2019 protests, the international community must stand with Iranians in demanding justice and reignite the call for accountability in efforts to disrupt the cycle of violence against protesters.” 

*HRA-SJ independently verified the validity of all videos included in this report.

Victims of November 2019 protests call for concrete action ahead of the anniversary

NOVEMBER 15, 2019: A sudden and substantial hike in the cost of fuel sparks unrest across Iran. Individuals across the country pour into the streets in what soon became mass protests covering a reported 104 cities across Iran.

As the anniversary of the November protests approaches, HRA has spoken with Iranians calling for concrete action against those responsible for violent crackdowns against protesters including arbitrary and incommunicado detention, illegal use of force, and torture among other serious violations. For nearly two years, perpetrators have, for the most part, enjoyed widespread impunity. Domestically, some have even seemingly been rewarded. Indeed, individuals such as now-President Ebrahim Raisi, a known and serious violator, have risen to top positions of power. 

Soheila, a 45-year-old mother whose son was shot in the November 2019 protests, highlights the shortcomings of the judiciary in Iran, telling HRA, “I hope that accountability will mean that next time, my child, instead of taking to the streets, can work through established pathways to hold corrupt people accountable for their actions.”

November 2019 saw the deaths of several hundred Iranians  (227 were verified by HRA) in what is arguably a state-sanctioned arbitrary deprivation of life. In addition over 7,100 were arbitrarily detained, some remain detained today. Although the violations noted above have been extensively documented, little has been done to hold perpetrators accountable. 

Figure 1: reported November 2019 protest points -black denotes locations where the killing of protester(s) was reported  (Human Rights Activists in Iran)

Elika, 25, told HRA, “Without accountability for violations that occurred in November 2019, the cycle of repression and violence will not end. Those that intend to perpetrate future abuse [on us] need to see accountability. Maybe then they will take a moment to think before pulling the trigger.”  In a recent post in the Atlantic Council IranSource blog, Skylar Thompson, HRA Senior Advocacy Coordinator, stated similarly, “Without concrete action to fight the plague of impunity that covers Iran, these violent events will only continue to occur and the Iranian people will continue to suffer.”

Iran has proven unwilling to investigate and prosecute those responsible through domestic judicial frameworks. The unwillingness is paired with the fact that Iran’s judiciary is in no way impartial and is in fact led by the very perpetrators responsible for the noted violations. Unfortunately, violations of fair trial standards have become the status quo. 

When asked what accountability looks like to him, Hafez, 22, told HRA, “They should handcuff the perpetrators. […]. They should be prosecuted in a public court and imprisoned.” He continued, “Once handcuffed, perpetrators should have to look the victim’s mother in the face to calm her heart.” Nazanin, 32, told HRA that accountability, in her view “is [the Islamic Republic] honestly and openly admitting wrongdoing.” 

HRA has identified 54 individual and seven institutional violators connected to the November 2019 protests. It Is noteworthy that a number of those violators have also been complicit in numerous additional acts of repression against protesters including in 1988, 2020 (protests over the shooting down of Ukrainian airliner), 2021 (protests over resource mismanagement in Khuzestan), and many instances in between. This repeated action is a direct consequence of the lack of accountability. 

The following section lists notable individuals documented by HRA as responsible for repeated serious and widespread rights violations. Extensive and credible documentation is readily available. HRA calls on the international community to hear the pleas of Iranians like Hafez, Nazanin, and Elika and utilize available documentation to take concrete action against those responsible. 

*For a more in-depth look at the listed violators select a name and be directed to a violator profile that includes several data points including an overview of violations, employment history, as well as additional evidentiary documentation. 



Mojtaba Raei

Special Governor, Najafabad City of Isfahan Province

Deputy Governor of Isfahan

Roham Bakhsh Habibi

The police commander of Fars Province

Lotfollah Dezhkam 

Representative of the Supreme Leader, Fars Province 

Friday Imam of Shiraz

Leila Vaseghi
Governor of Quds City

Jamal Alami Nisi
Governor of Ahvaz 

Chairman of the Ahvaz City Security Council

Masoumeh Khanfari
Governor of Karoun City

Nik-Mohammad Balouch-Zehi
Director-General, Information and Communications Technology Department of Sistan and Baluchestan Province

Seyed-Vahid Haghanian aka “Vahid” or “Sardar (General) Vahid” 

Executive and Special Affairs Deputy of the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader’s office

Saeed Jalili
Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council


Ali-akbar Javidan

Kermanshah Police Chief

Hossein Rahimi
Head of Tehran Police Forces

Hossein AshtariFard

Commander of the police force of the Islamic Republic

Gholamreza Jafari

From November 12, 2019, to now: Commander of the Hormozgan Police Force 

Hassan Karami
Command of the Special Unit of the Police Force

Mohammad-Hossein Babakalani
Retired Police Force

Saeed Motaharizadeh 

North Khorasan Police Chief

Reza Papey
The police commander of Mahshahr City

Abdolreza Nazeri
Commander of the Kerman Police Force

Ruhollah Geravandi
Dezful Police Commander

Manouchehr Amanollahi 

Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Police Commander 


Kioumars Heydari

Brigadier General IRGC

Hossein Taeb

Former Head of the IRGC Intelligence Organization

Hassan Shahvarpour
Commander of the Khuzestan Provincial IRGC force (Valiasr IRGC base)

Masoud Khorramnia
Second Brigadier General (IRGC) 

Commander-in-chief of West Azerbaijan province

Mohammad-Esmaeil Kowsari
Senior Commander, IRGC

Hossein Salami

Commander-in-Chief of the IRGC

Mohammad-Reza Yazdi

Senior Commander of IRGC 

Gholamreza Soleimani Farsani
Commander of Sahib al-Zaman IRGC in Isfahan province

Gholam-hossein Gheibparvar
Commander of the Basij

Deputy Commander of the IRGC, Imam Ali’s HQ

Mousa Ghazanfar-Abadi
The former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunals of Tehran


Heydar Asiabi

Senior Judicial Official, Judiciary of the Islamic Republic

Alireza Aghajari
Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor of Pardis city, the former prosecutor of Mahshahr city

Peyman Samadi

Prisoner Supervisor in Ward 9, Evin Prison 

Deputy Director of the 2nd Brigade in Fashafoyeh Prison

Mehdi Mohammadi

Deputy Prosecutor of Boroujerd

Hamid Golinejad
Head of Branch 101 of the 2nd Criminal Court of Urmia

Ali Esfahani
Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor of Isfahan Province

Ali Zare
General and Revolutionary Prosecutor of Najafabad city in Isfahan province

Yahya Jafari 

Judicial Official, Judiciary of the Islamic Republic

Mohammad-javad Heshmati Mohazzab

Senior Judicial Official, Judiciary of the Islamic Republic

Mohammad-Hossein Sadeghi 

Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor of Kermanshah Province

Hamid Mohammadi
Head of Evin Prison 

Mansour Mohammadi Khabbaz
The public and revolutionary prosecutor of Dezful

Abbas Hosseini-Pouya 

Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor of Khuzestan Province

Hamid Asgaripour
Shahriar County Public Prosecutor and Revolution

Mahamad-Reza Amouzad Khalili

Head of Branch 24 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran

Seyed-Ahmad Zargar
Judge of the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal of Tehran

Iman Afshari

Head of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran

Mohammad Mahdi Mahmoodi
Deputy Chief Justice of the General and Revolutionary Courts of Shiraz

Head of the 2nd Criminal Court

Judge of Branch 101 of the 2nd Criminal Court of Shiraz

Ali Alghasi-Mehr
The general prosecutor of Tehran


Hossein Shariatmadari
Kayhan Institute

Abdolali Ali-Asgari
Head of the Islamic Republic Broadcasting Organization (IRIB)

Ameneh-Sadat Zabihpour

For media inquiries contact HRA Senior Advocacy Coordinator, Skylar Thompson [email protected]

From November 2019 to Khuzestan protests, lack of accountability is emblematic of Iran’s plague of impunity

By Skylar Thompson
Published on Atlantic Council, IranSource

November 9, 2021

Whether it is the imposition of self-serving fuel subsidies in November 2019, the shooting down of a Ukrainian international airliner in January 2020, or decades-long mismanagement of water resources that led to unrest in July, one can count on Iranians to not sit silently by. In all cases, Iranians took to the streets en masse, protesting a regime that continuously acts against the interests of its citizens.

However, arbitrary detention and the lethal use of force against protesters have become all too common characteristics of the Islamic Republic’s response to protests. The latter constitutes a state-sanctioned arbitrary deprivation of life.

As the second anniversary of the November 2019 protests draws near, there has been little concrete action taken against those responsible for the violent November crackdowns, which saw the deaths of several hundred (Human Rights Activists (HRA) independently identified the figure at 227—the actual number is believed to be much higher) and at least 7,100 arbitrarily detained. The inaction against those responsible perpetuates abuse like that seen in January 2020 and July. It is imperative that the international community engage in discussions to develop strategic pathways to hold perpetrators of serious human rights violations in Iran accountable.

When frustration over decades-long mismanagement of resources sparked unrest in Khuzestan between July 15 and July 27, soon spreading to other provinces—including Isfahan, Lorestan, Eastern Azerbaijan, Tehran, and Karaj—extensive human rights violations occurred. At least six individuals were confirmed as killed by HRA, while 361 individuals were independently identified by HRA as detained while participating in July’s protests.

The current lack of accountability in Iran perpetuates this continuous cycle of abuse. Indeed, individuals that can be identified as responsible for rights violations in relation to the July Khuzestan protests also played a role in the brutal crackdowns of November 2019.

HRA has identified six of these people. For example, Hassan Shahvarpour, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Valiasr Corps in Khuzestan province, played a key role in the violent suppression of protesters in November 2019. Forces under Shahvarpour’s command killed a large number of protesters hiding in the marshlands of Mahshahr using heavy firearms. His actions have been identified as serious human rights violations, including violations of the right to peaceful assembly and right to life.

In July, those very forces opened fire on citizens in Mahshahr once again. This is not unique to Shahvarpour. However, he is emblematic of the plague of impunity that covers the Islamic Republic. Another example is Abbas Hosseini Pouya, the Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor of Ahvaz, who is known to have participated in the mass arbitrary arrests of Ahvaz protesters in November 2019 and again in July.

It is noteworthy that the reasons for an uprising often constitute violations themselves. In Khuzestan province, for instance, citizens lack access to clean drinking water. This is due to the Islamic Republic failing to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to water, which is inextricably linked to the right to the highest attainable standard of health, both protected by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, to which Iran is a signatory. There must also be accountability on the part of the Islamic Republic for this and similar failures.

Without concrete action to fight the plague of impunity that covers Iran, these violent events will only continue to occur and the Iranian people will continue to suffer. Iran has proven they are both unable and unwilling to provide a domestic judicial remedy for victims of human rights violations. The information on those perpetrators complicit in such widespread abuse is readily available. The international community must speak up for the Iranian people and take concrete action to ensure that those responsible are held accountable.

Read HRA’s newest report, “The Uprising of the Thirsty,” for an in-depth overview of the rights violations that occurred, as well as a profile of the perpetrators identified in the July 2021 Khuzestan protests.

Skylar Thompson is a senior advocacy coordinator at Human Rights Activists (HRA), a US-based Iranian human rights organization focused on monitoring and documenting human rights violations in Iran. Follow her on Twitter: @SkyylarThompson.

The uprising of the thirsty; An analysis of the 2021 Khuzestan Protests


The July 2021 Iranian protests were a continuation of protests that have been erupting sporadically since 2016. The driving force behind the July/August uprising was to protest the perennial water shortages and rolling blackouts stemming from mismanagement of resources, fueling public anger. The latest round of protests erupted on 15 July, starting in Khuzestan soon spreading to other provinces including Isfahan, Lorestan, Eastern Azerbaijan, Tehran, and Karaj. These protests have been coined the ‘Uprising of the Thirsty’.

As nearly 5 million Iranians in Khuzestan are lacking access to clean drinking water, Iran is failing to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to water, which is inextricably linked to the right to the highest attainable standard of health; both are protected by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESR), to which Iran is a signatory. It is a common cause that Iran’s water crisis has reached a critical point. Even the regime’s state-run media have acknowledged the dire situation, with at least 700 villages out of water.

According to the state-run Aftab News on July 4, 2021, “Of Iran’s population of 85 million, about 28 million live in areas with water shortages and are under pressure in this regard, mainly in the central and southern regions of the country. Water shortages have affected all sections of society, from urban households to agricultural and rural communities.”

It did not take long for the protests to take on a political character, with protesters in various cities calling for the end of the current regime and expanding the subject matter of their protests from water shortages to deteriorating living conditions.

One protester told HRA, “My ideal outcome is to see a regime official resign in response to our suffering. We are tired of all of this misery, poverty, dehydration, neglect, lies, and empty promises.

A protester living in Tehran told HRA, “Besides supporting [the people of] Khuzestan, we are protesting unemployment, high prices, poverty, and the existing problems in the country. We can no longer bear the hardships of life created by unworthy officials. The authorities must address the problems…

In the two weeks of the uprising, Human Rights Activists (HRA) verified 129 videos documenting the protests, 361 arrests, 6 deaths, and several more wounded. HRA’s Spreading Justice team (HRA-SJ) additionally identified individual violators associated with the violent crackdown. The following report analyses the events that occurred as a result of the uprising, those responsible, and concludes with a call for accountability noting that without action, this cycle of abuse will only continue.