During recent protests in Iran over fuel prices, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps forces massacred between 40 to 100 mostly unarmed young men, when they opened fire with machine guns on a marsh near the city of Mahshahr where demonstrators had taken refuge, the New York Times reported Sunday.
The report comes a day after Iran disputed death tolls issued abroad for bloodshed that erupted during protests two weeks ago, after a rights group said over 160 demonstrators were killed across the country.
The demonstrations flared in mid-November, after the price of gasoline in the Islamic republic went up overnight by as much as 200 percent.
According the Times, it was able to gather testimony and evidence as Iran slowly lifted an almost complete internet blackout that had been imposed as the protests were brutally crushed. The internet was still off in Mahshahr in Iran’s southwest.
The New York Times said it had interviewed six residents of Mahshahr, including “a protest leader who had witnessed the violence; a reporter based in the city who works for Iranian media, and had investigated the violence but was banned from reporting it; and a nurse at the hospital where casualties were treated.”
Mahshahr is in a region with an ethnic Arab majority with a long history of opposition to the central government.
The witness described how the Revolutionary Guards deployed a large force to Mahshahr on Monday, November 18, to crush the protests after demonstrators gained control of the city and roads leading to a nearby major industrial petrochemical complex.
The guard immediately opened fire on protesters manning one intersection, without giving warning and killed several people, residents said.
— Peymaneh Shafi (@peymaneh123) November 30, 2019
Many of the protester then fled to take cover in a nearby marsh, where one of them, armed with a rifle, opened fire on the troops, who responded with machine gun fire, killing dozens, the report said.
Residents put the death toll between 40 and 100, saying the Guards put the dead on the back of a truck and took them away, while relatives took the wounded to a nearby hospital.
A nurse said many of the wounded had bullet wounds to the head and chest.
One protester, who said two of his cousins were killed, described how families were given the bodies back five days later only after they had signed paperwork promising not to hold funerals or memorial services and not to give interviews to media.
He said they also had bullet wounds in the head and chest.
After the massacre, a gun battle erupted between the Guards and local residents, many of whom have guns kept for hunting, one witness said. The report quoted Iranian state media and witnesses saying that a senior Guards commander had been killed in a Mahshahr clash.
Internet footage also suggested that the Guards deployed tanks in the city.
A crippling regime considers Iranians as its big threat and enemy.Last week regime performed full fledged war against unarmed people. Here you can see Tanks in Mahshahr. The internet still is off there, all we hear is that a bloody massacre took place in Mahshahr. #IranProtest pic.twitter.com/aO2AEPsEoX
— Sara (@saraghavamian) November 30, 2019
Iran’s interior minister confirmed that the protesters had gotten control over Mahshahr and its roads in a televised interview last week, but the Iranian government did not respond to specific questions in recent days about the mass killings in the city, the report said.
Officials in Iran have yet to say how many people died in the ensuing violence that saw banks, petrol pumps and police stations set on fire.
The New York Times put the death toll across the country at between 180 and 450. The London-based human rights group Amnesty International said in a tweet on Friday that the crackdown claimed the lives of at least 161 demonstrators.
But Iran’s deputy interior minister, Jamal Orf, disputed such figures.
“Statistics by international organizations on those killed in the recent incidents are not credible,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.
Orf accused the sources that reported the figures of “exaggerating” them.
The prosecution service, he added, was set to announce the figures based on those it receives from the coroner’s office.
Prior to its latest tweet, Amnesty International said on Monday that 143 demonstrators had been killed in the crackdown, citing what it called “credible reports.”
The governments of the United States, France and Germany have condemned Iran over the bloodshed.
The unrest broke out on November 15, hours after it was announced that the price of gas would rise to 15,000 rials per liter (12 US cents) from 10,000 for the first 60 liters, and to 30,000 rials for any extra fuel bought after that each month.
Iran’s economy has been battered since last year, when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from a 2015 nuclear agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions on the Islamic republic.
The government in Tehran said proceeds from the fuel price hike would go to the most needy people in the country.
According to IRNA, the payments have since been made in three installations between November 18 and 23.
This week an Iranian lawmaker said authorities arrested more than 7,000 people in the wake of the protests.