Iran targets witnesses of deadly repression after nationwide protests

The families of at least six witnesses have been earmarked after they gave evidence to a tribunal in London

People protest against increased gas price, on a highway in Tehran, Iran November 16, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY

Iran has earmarked for punishment at least six witnesses who gave evidence at a public tribunal investigating a deadly crackdown on nationwide protests in November 2019, human rights groups said on Thursday.

The six were among 55 witnesses who gave evidence via video link to public hearings of a London-based tribunal, which has heard how protesters were arrested, tortured and killed, a coalition of 15 groups said.

Some of the hearings were streamed and could be seen live in Iran.

The hearings – known as the Aban Tribunal – were set up to try to hold to account senior regime officials and security forces involved in a brutal five-day operation to quell the demonstrations.

They were sparked by rising fuel prices but developed into a broader protest against the regime. At least 323 people were killed in the purge.

The tribunal started its work in November last year and reprisals started shortly afterwards against those who gave evidence and their families who remain in Iran.

They included arrests, prosecution for security-related offences, threatening telephone calls and raids on their homes, said the groups that include Amnesty International and the Campaign to Free Political Prisoners in Iran.

Two thirds of those who give evidence in person hid their identities using masks and sunglasses. But the six witnesses and their families selected by authorities spoke openly about their experiences.

They included one Iran-based witness and five others who fled the country after the protests but whose family remained behind.

The groups said the regime had targeted Amin Ansarifar, whose son Farzad was killed by security forces during protests in Behbahan, western Iran.

He was summoned for repeated questioning by intelligence officials in the weeks after he gave evidence at a “court of the enemy”. His home was raided and both Amin and another son, Arman, were this month sentenced to three months in prison with a five-year travel ban for “spreading propaganda” against the regime.

His daughter was in February sentenced to more than four years in prison after she posted on Instagram about her brother’s death. She has yet to be summoned to serve her sentence.

“The authorities have ordered relatives in Iran to cut ties with tribunal witnesses based abroad and publicly denounce their testimonies or ‘face consequences’ including detention and other harm to them and their family members, including children,” the 15 groups said in their statement.

Probe into crimes against humanity

The tribunal is investigating crimes against humanity, including murder, torture and rape committed during the protests and in its aftermath, with 160 officials identified as suspects.

They include prison guards and security officials identified on mobile phone footage firing on crowds. Others include high-level officials including President Ebrahim Raisi, who was head of the judiciary at the time.

The tribunal has heard evidence about widespread torture in prisons, the rounding up of dissidents after the protests and harrowing details about a woman who was shot from behind while helping to bandage the wounds of a young protester.

The backers of the tribunal take as their inspiration the Russell Tribunal from the 1960s, which investigated the US intervention in Vietnam, and the Iran Tribunal from 2012, which examined the massacre of thousands of prisoners in the late 1980s.

Organisers hope that it will lead to a full investigation by the UN and sanctions imposed on those chiefly responsible.

Updated: April 07, 2022, 11:19 AM