At least 58 Iranian children reportedly killed since anti-regime protests began

The Guardian, 20 Nov 2022
By Deepa Parent, Ghoncheh Habibiazad, and Annie Kelly

Rights groups say children as young as eight are among the victims of the crackdown by security services since the death of Mahsa Amini

Top row: Abolfazl Adinehzadeh; Sarina Esmailzadeh; Kumar Daroftadeh. Bottom row: Asra Panahi; Kian Pirfalak; Nika Shakarami.
Top row: Abolfazl Adinehzadeh; Sarina Esmailzadeh; Kumar Daroftadeh. Bottom row: Asra Panahi; Kian Pirfalak; Nika Shakarami

At least 58 children, some reportedly as young as eight, have been killed in Iran since anti-regime protests broke out in the country two months ago.

According to Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA), 46 boys and 12 girls under 18 have been killed since the protests began on 16 September, sparked by the death of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody.

In the past week alone, five children were reportedly killed by security forces as violence continued across the country.

Those who died last week include the nine-year-old Kian Pirfalak, who was one of seven people – including a 13-year-old child – killed in the western city of Izeh on Wednesday.

Speaking at Kian’s funeral on Friday, his family said security services had opened fire on the family car, where Kian was sitting next to his father. Iranian security services have denied responsibility for his death, blaming the shooting on “terrorists”.

Iran’s mounting child death toll comes amid escalating violence in cities across the country, with protests showing no sign of abating.

Families in Iran spoke exclusively to the Observer about the death of their children, who they say were killed by government forces.

Hassan Daroftadeh said his son Kumar had always told his family he would grow up to be a “great man”. Instead, they said, Kumar has become a martyr after dying on the streets of his home town of Piranshahr in west Iran on 30 October. His father said he died after being shot multiple times with metal pellets at close range.

“Kumar was just standing on the street. He didn’t even say a word. I don’t know with what conscience they martyred him. Piranshahr is a small town. There were no protests that night, yet they martyred my son. He was just a little boy,’’ said Daroftadeh. A video of Daroftadeh weeping by his son’s grave went viral on social media.

“I’m shattered. Kumar was his mother’s lifeline,” he said. “The Iranian regime denies killing him. They later said ‘foreigners’ have killed him. I don’t know how the officer who killed my son hugs his own children. I don’t know how he sleeps at night.”

The same afternoon, a month before Kumar’s death – which human rights groups have since called “Bloody Friday” after 93 people were killed across Iran – Mohammad Eghbal, 17, was on his way to Friday prayers when he was shot in the back by a sniper in Zahedan, the capital of the Sistan and Baluchistan province. According to Amnesty International, 10 children were killed in Zahedan that day.

Mohammad Eghbal had worked as a construction worker from the age of nine to support his large family and had dreamed of saving up enough money to buy a smartphone so he could open an Instagram account.

His last words were to a stranger, according to one of his relatives. “He asked a bystander, ‘Please take my cellphone from my pocket and call my dad. Tell him I’ve been shot.’” The relative added that when they arrived at the hospital to look for him, the family found a “war zone”.

“Dead bodies were lying across the floor with the screams and cries of mothers filling the air,” the relative said.

The family member said that after his death, the teenager was labelled a terrorist in pro-regime media outlets. “They said Mohammad was a separatist. He was only a child, he had no idea about what being a separatist means. His father is even feeling worse than his mother. Mohammad used to sleep beside his dad at night.”

According to the human rights group Hengaw, 12 children have died in the Kurdistan province since the beginning of the protests – and three died in the custody of Iranian special forces. An additional 200 Kurdish teenagers have been arrested and 300 injured after being fired on by government forces.

A week after Mohammad Eghbal died, the 17-year-old Abolfazl Adinehzadeh went into the streets of his home town of Mashhad and never came home.

“We buried Abolfazl with more than 50 shotgun pellets still inside his body,” said a family member. “The medical team could only remove 27. We fear for his mother and sisters who are broken and will never be able to come to terms with his death.”

His family said the teenager had been motivated to take to the streets out of love for his three sisters. “Abolfazl was a well-mannered kid and, having been raised with three sisters, he was well aware of the challenges Iranian women face. He was truly a feminist who wanted equal rights for men and women,” one of his relatives told the Observer.

“As soon as his sisters heard of the news [that he had been shot], they ran towards the street screaming his name. The entire family is inconsolable. He was adored by us all.”

Young people have been at the forefront of anti-regime protests, which started after Mahsa Amini died in the custody of Iran’s morality police. She had been arrested for not wearing her hijab correctly.

The deaths of two teenage girls, Nika Shakamari and Sarina Esmailzadeh, both allegedly beaten to death by security forces for protesting, provoked further outrage.

Videos of schoolgirls across the country protesting against their killing by removing their hijabs and taking down pictures of Iran’s supreme leaders went viral on social media, leading to raids on schools where children were beaten and detained. According to Iran’s teachers union, another 16-year-old girl, Asra Panahi, died after she was attacked by security forces in her classroom in the north-western town of Ardabil on 18 October.

The attacks on children in schools is continuing, according to Hengaw, which said a 16-year-old girl from Kurdistan is on life support after throwing herself from a school van, having been arrested at her school last week.

HRA says more than 38o protesters have been killed since the protests began and more than 16,000 people have been detained, including children. The figure is disputed by the authorities.

Shutdown impact stories: how internet shutdowns affect women in Iran

Access now, 23 JUNE 2022 
By Skylar Thompson and Felicia Anthonio 

“This job insecurity may involve everyone, but it must be admitted that girls face more obstacles to finding financial independence.”

Women in Iran face an incredible array of legal and social obstacles to gaining financial independence. The worsening economic situation across Iran — owing to a barrage of economic sanctions and domestic corruption and mismanagement, among other things — has only made matters worse. Women are disproportionately affected by the crisis, and some have turned to selling goods online to earn income and support their families. But what happens when the internet goes dark?

As a new report from the United Nations confirms, internet shutdowns, by their very nature, restrict human rights, and there are almost no circumstances under which they can be justified according to international human rights law. Yet Iran’s regime systematically imposes internet shutdowns to silence dissent and simultaneously repress the right to peaceful assembly and association. Often, these shutdowns entail cutting off mobile phone networks, slowing down broadband speeds, or completely cutting internet access across regions or on a national scale, affecting both national and international networks.

Most recently, Iranian authorities imposed nationwide slowdowns or “throttling,” as well as blanket internet blackouts, when Iranians held protests to speak out against the soaring price of bread and other basic necessities. In May 2022, authorities reportedly disrupted internet access for 26 days out of the month. The same thing happened in 2021, as Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA) documented: authorities responded to dissent and protest over government mismanagement of water by cutting internet access in Khuzestan province, then extending the shutdown across the country.

These and other shutdowns have a devastating impact on the lives of the Iranian people. But what about the effects on women? Below you will find the stories of Samane, Susan, and Mehrnoush, gathered by HRA and Access Now to show how women who use the internet to achieve financial independence in Iran are impacted by the regime’s tightening grip on internet freedom.

Ex-Tehran police chief linked to rights abuses spotted working out at Toronto-area gym

Morteza Talaei headed the police force in Iran’s capital city when Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was arrested and tortured to death in a Tehran prison

By: Tom Blackwell
Publishing date: Feb 11, 2022 


Iranian ex-patriates and human-rights groups are voicing outrage after evidence emerged that Canada had issued a visitor visa to a former Tehran police chief linked to various human-rights abuses.

Morteza Talaei also headed the capital city’s police force when Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was arrested and tortured to death in a Tehran prison.

The ex-chief was photographed at a gym in Richmond Hill, Ont., near Toronto, and later told a European-based Iranian journalist the visit to see his daughter was a private matter and no one else’s business.

Talaei is best known for launching a special unit to crack down on women wearing supposedly un-Islamic dress, aggressively quelling protests and spearheading an operation to seize TV satellite dishes used to bring in Western programming.

Before becoming police chief, he was an officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the politicized military force that shot down an airliner packed with Canadians in 2020 – accidentally according to Iran.

Canada should not be offering a safe haven and “impunity abroad” to individuals like Talaei, said a coalition of Iranian rights groups in an open letter to the federal government last week. The organizations urged Ottawa instead to impose sanctions on such officials under its “Magnitsky” law for punishing foreign rights violators.

“Allowing Morteza Talaei to freely enter Canada sends a dangerous message, a message that is an affront to Iranians who have themselves sought refuge in Canada,” the letter said. “Human rights violators must not be included in the Prime Minister’s ‘everyone is welcome’ campaign.”

Swiss-based Iranian journalist Abdollah Abdi, who broke the story after a viewer sent him video from the gym about two months ago, said he was baffled by this country’s decision.

“I have a lot of questions for (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau,” he said. “This is a scandal…. It threatens Canada’s security when you permit someone like this to enter the country.”

It threatens Canada’s security when you permit someone like this to enter the country

Critics contrasted Talaei’s visit to the experience of some other Iranians who have tried and failed to get into Canada recently.

The brother of a passenger killed in the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was refused a visa to attend ceremonies marking the disaster’s two-year anniversary last month, said Hamed Esmaeilion, president of an association of victims’ relatives.

The brother of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose videotaped shooting by a government militia member drew international attention to the 2009 Green movement demonstrations in Tehran, says he and his sister Hoda were also denied entry to Canada.

“Over the years, the Canadian government has easily granted visas to countless (Iranian) human-rights violators … while my family was not granted visas as victims of this government,” Mohammad Agha-Soltan said in a statement to the National Post. “This is a great shame.”

He’s not alone in his anger. When Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad reposted the gym video, it was viewed more than 1.8 million times and triggered almost 9,000 comments.

I really want Canadians to do an investigation about how he got a visa

“It made Iranian people furious,” Alinejad said. “I really want Canadians to do an investigation about how he got a visa.”

Jeffrey MacDonald, an Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesman, said the department couldn’t comment on the case because of privacy laws.

But he said “security screening and risk assessment” are an important part of determining whether someone is admissible to Canada on national-security grounds.

The National Post sent questions about the affair to Talaei through his Twitter account but had not heard back by deadline.

It’s unclear if Talaei had anything directly to do with the detention or death in custody of Kazemi — who had been photographing relatives of arrested demonstrators outside a prison — but he was certainly an integral part of the city’s law-enforcement system at the time, said Alinejad.

Other acts are well documented. He spearheaded formation of a new unit of the Tehran police in 2006 that deployed 50 cruisers around the city to enforce the country’s strict dress code for women, as well as rules against owning dogs.

“In our campaign, we will confront women showing their bare legs in short pants,” Al Jazeera news outlet quoted Talaei as saying at the time. “We are also going to combat women wearing skimpy headscarves, short and form-fitting coats and the ones walking pets in parks and streets.”

That background as a morality enforcer prompted social media critics to call him a hypocrite, noting the gym video shows unveiled women working out near him.

As chief, Talaei also backed a push to remove satellite dishes from private homes, deemed illegal by the regime, a report by the U.K.’s Border and Immigration Agency notes. Many citizens used the dishes to beam in Western TV programming.

And journalists Masih and Abdi say he was part of the police force when protests instigated by students at Tehran University in 1999 were suppressed violently by authorities.

After retiring as police chief in 2006, Talaei (whose name is sometimes also transliterated as Talai) was elected to city council, and even then was involved in controversial policies.  He had a heated exchange with a female journalist in 2014 — saying the reporter was “compromising her dignity” — as he defended new rules on the role of women in the city government. The policy separated the offices of men and women and limited female access to managerial and clerical positions, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran.

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Abdi said he received the video of the scene at Richmond Hill’s Movati Athletic from an audience member and later contacted Talaei directly. The former policeman declined to answer how he had obtained a visa to enter Canada, said the journalist, and chastised the reporter for interfering in his private affairs.

“Why should individuals’ personal issues be dealt with in the media space?” Talaei asked Abdi in a part of the interview aired by the BBC’s Persian-language service. “Why should I come to the media and say which trip I have gone to or not?

Abdi said Talaei also made veiled threats, accused him of being a member of the anti-Tehran Mujahedin-e-Khalq, once listed by Canada as a terrorist group, and revealed that he knew who his parents were and where they live in Iran.

Esmaeilion, who lost his wife and daughter in the Flight PS752 shoot-down, said he hoped to raise the incident with Immigration Minister Sean Fraser. The gym where Talaei was spotted is actually close to his home.

“We don’t feel safe here,” he said, “when the IRGC commanders and their families come freely to Canada.”

Iranian journalist Manoochehr Aghaei begins 8-month prison sentence

November 1, 2021

Washington, D.C., November 1, 2021 — Iranian authorities must release journalist Manoochehr Aghaei immediately and unconditionally, and cease jailing members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On October 27, Aghaei, the editor-in-chief of the independent, social media-based news outlet MiandoabPress and a reporter for the state-run news website Young Journalists’ Club, presented himself to authorities at Miandoab Central Prison, in West Azerbaijan province, to begin an eight-month prison sentence, according to reports by the exile-run news website IranWire and the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), a U.S.-based outlet that covers Iran.

Earlier that day, Aghaei tweeted that he had been convicted of “spreading propaganda against the system.” Neither that tweet nor those news reports specified when he was charged or tried.

“Iranian authorities must release reporter Manoochehr Aghaei immediately and unconditionally, and stop jailing journalists in connection with their work,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Authorities need to recognize that not every piece of journalism or commentary is anti-state propaganda, and must cease their brutal censorship of the press.”

Aghaei’s conviction stemmed from readers’ comments on MiandoabPress’s Telegram and Instagram accounts. According to IranWire, authorities considered those comments to be anti-state propaganda, and held Aghaei responsible for them.

MiandoabPress is an independent news outlet that covers daily national news topics, such as politics and finance, as well as local news in West Azerbaijan, according to CPJ’s review of its Telegram channel, which has about 21,000 followers, and Instagram, where it has 82,000 followers. The outlet publishes in both Azeri and Farsi.

In the tweet before his imprisonment, Aghaei wrote, “I have to present myself to judicial officials to start serving my sentence only due to people’s comments. Pressuring journalists is not the solution to the problems.”

CPJ called the Miandoab judiciary office for comment, but no one answered.

Police fire tear gas at protesters in Iran’s city of Isfahan

Online videos show police firing tear gas and fighting protesters with batons in a central Iranian city that has seen days of demonstrations demanding government action over a drought
By The Associated Press
27 November 2021

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Police fired tear gas and birdshot while fighting protesters with batons on Friday in a central Iranian city that has seen days of demonstrations demanding government action over a drought, online videos show.

The social media videos and others from activists show police and protesters clashing in the dry bed of the Zayandehrud River in the city of Isfahan. The videos correspond to reporting by The Associated Press and satellite images of the area, as well as some semiofficial Iranian news agency accounts of the unrest.

Videos from Human Rights Activists in Iran show demonstrators throwing stones at police, while others depict bloodied protesters, including one man who appeared to have wounds in his back from birdshot. They also show similar unrest in nearby streets in Isfahan, which is 340 kilometers (210 miles) south of the capital Tehran.

The Iranian semiofficial Fars news agency said a heavy presence of security forces brought the gathering of some 500 people in Isfahan to an end. A separate report carried by the semiofficial Tasnim agency said unknown perpetrators had damaged a pipeline that transfers water from Isfahan to other provinces Thursday night.

Some people in Isfahan later Friday reported that mobile internet service was disrupted in the city. The group NetBlocks reported an outage in recent days that also affected the southwestern city of Ahvaz amid water protests there.

Iran in the past has shut down both mobile and landline internet to halt protests. That included a nationwide shutdown during 2019 protests over rising government-set gasoline prices that Amnesty International says saw over 300 people killed.

Farmers reportedly ended a long protest in the area on Thursday after authorities promised to compensate them for losses suffered in drought-stricken areas of central Iran.

Drought has been a problem in Iran for some 30 years, but it has worsened over the past decade, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The Iran Meteorological Organization says that an estimated 97% of the country now faces some level of drought.

The farming area around Isfahan was once well supplied by the Zayandehrud River, but nearby factories have increasingly drawn on it over the years. The river once flowed under historic bridges in Isfahan’s city center, but is now a barren strip of dirt.

In 2012, farmers clashed with police in a town in Isfahan province, breaking a water pipe that diverted some 50 million cubic meters of water a year to a neighboring province. Similar protests have continued sporadically since then.

November 2019 Protester In Iran Sentenced To Death

12/5/2021
Author: Maryam Sinaee

A protester accused of shooting a Special Riot Force commander in Mahshahr, southern Iran in the nation-wide November 2019 protests has been sentenced to death.

The foreign-based Iranian Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported Friday that authorities informed the family of Abbas Shelishat (Driss), 45, that he has been sentenced to death on a number of charges including taking up arms against the Islamic Republic and shooting a commander of the Special Anti-Riot Forces, Reza Sayyadi, during protests in Mahshahr in November 2019.

A source close to the family told HRANA that the judicial authorities gave a verbal notice of the sentence to the family four months ago and have since refused to provide any official confirmation of the sentence to them or Shelishat’s two lawyers who have also not even been allowed to read the case files.

The Judiciary has also sentenced several others to death for the protests in November 2019 including three young men whose death sentences have been confirmed by the Supreme Court but not carried out yet.

Abbas Shelishat, sentenced to death. Undated photo

Abbas Shelishat, sentenced to death. Undated photo

Shelishat’s brother, Mohsen, who has also been accused of complicity in the killing of the anti-riot officer, has been sentenced to life in prison, the family have said.

Karim Dahimi, Iranian Arab activist, told Iran International Saturday that this case has been sent to the Supreme Court for approval. According to Dahimi, a second expert has testified to the court that Shelishat could not be responsible for the killing of the officer as Shileshat’s position at the time of the killing made it impossible for him to shoot the officer in the back.

Sources close to the family have told HRANA that Shelishat’s wife died of a brain stroke after finding out about the sentence. In the past four months the family apparently kept the news of the death sentence secret waiting to get official confirmation.

A few weeks after the protests, the state-run television aired a video of Shileshat and other prisoners whose faces were obscured and presented as “confessions of armed terrorists”. The state media described the Mahshahr protesters as terrorists and Arab separatist groups.

In the video, a man allegedly Shileshat, said with his brother’s complicity he had shot an officer in a green uniform during the protests from the roof of his house.

In the same program, two other prisoners spoke about the events at the time of the killing with one of them claiming that two protesters who arrived on motorcycles shot at police officers while the officers were praying together.

The events described in the program happened during a bloody crackdown by the Revolutionary Guards and other security forces against largely unarmed protesters in the southern city of Mahshahr and its suburbs after protesters gained control of the city’s transit roads.

The port city of Mahshahr is in the oil-producing Khuzestan province and close to large petrochemical plants and other oil facilities.

The crackdown on protesters seeking refuge in the marshlands on the outskirts of the city security forces reportedly opened fire indiscriminately. The lethal attack has come to be widely referred to as the Mahshahr Massacre among Iranians.

President Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mahmoud Vaezi, on December 11, 2019 confirmed the reports about the killing of protesters in Mahsharhr but claimed that a group of armed individuals were responsible for the violence and shooting at both the protesters and the security forces.

Two weeks after the incident in Mahshahr, the New York Times reported that between 40 to 100 protesters were killed during the crackdown based on multiple interviews with eyewitnesses including a nurse at a hospital where the wounded were treated.

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.

Iran sentences German human rights advocate to 10 years in prison over ‘propaganda’

By WION

A German-Iranian woman was sentenced to jail on Wednesday for her role in “the management of an unlawful organisation and propaganda operations against the regime,” according to HRANA news agency.

In October 2020, Nahid Taghavi, an Iranian human rights activist, was detained at her Tehran residence.

The 66-year-old was sentenced to ten years and eight months in jail. Her daughter, Mariam Claren, confirmed the sentence in a post on Twitter.

Taghavi is a dual citizen of Germany and Iran. Taghavi, however, was denied consular aid from Germany since Iran’s authorities do not formally recognise dual nationality.

Claren stated that her mother had been detained in seclusion for a long time after Taghavi’s arrest.

Taghavi caught COVID-19 and became severely unwell after being transferred to the women’s wing of Tehran’s Evin prison in July.

“For someone at her age with preexisting health conditions and now testing positive for COVID-19, her life is in imminent danger,” Claren said, calling for her mother’s immediate release.

At least three people killed in protests over water shortages in Iran

By Ramin Mostaghim & Jonny Hallam
CNN

At least three people have been killed during violent protests over water shortages in Iran, according to state media.

The protests started in southwest Khuzestan province and spread to the nearby city of Aligoodarz in western Lorestan province.

Authorities are blaming the deaths in Aligoordarz on “suspicious bullets shot by some unknown people who penetrated among peaceful protesters,” state media said.

People have been demonstrating for more than a week over water shortages during Iran’s worst drought in over half a century that has affected households, agriculture, livestock farming, and led to power blackouts.

According to two independent sources in the oil-rich Khuzestan province, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity, the actual number of people killed in over a week of protests is higher than officially reported.

One witness, who was at a protest in Khuzestan province, told CNN that people were shot dead by anti-riot police and security agents, and that a continued heavy security presence remained in Khuzestan on Saturday.

The dissident Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) on Saturday reported that at least 10 people died in the protests and an unknown number of people were injured.

At least 102 people have been arrested in the past 10 nights in 30 cities and towns across Iran, according to HRANA.

Several videos uploaded by social media users last week showed security forces using tear gas to disperse protesters, with another video on social media showing activists gathering outside the Tehran Interior Ministry to voice support for Khuzestan protesters.

“We call on law enforcement forces not to harm protesters calling (for) access to water,” a prominent activist, Narges Mohammadi, said in the video.

Security forces beefed up their presence in Tehran, where in the capital’s Azadi square, anti-riot police were seen stationed with armored vehicles.

Iran’s economy has been crippled partly by sanctions imposed mainly on its oil industry by former US President Donald Trump in 2018, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic. Workers, including thousands in the key energy sector, and pensioners have protested for months, with discontent growing over mismanagement, high unemployment and an inflation rate of more than 50%.