Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

Iran arrests more than 100 fuel protest leaders as US asks Iranians to send evidence of crackdown

Mike Pompeo says he wants to 'expose and sanction' regime abuses, while the EU demands that Tehran stops violence against protesters

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has asked Iranians to send videos and other evidence of their government's crackdown on fuel protests. Getty Images / AFP
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has asked Iranians to send videos and other evidence of their government's crackdown on fuel protests. Getty Images / AFP

The United States has asked Iranians to send videos and other evidence of Iran's crackdown on recent fuel protests so that it can "expose and sanction" abuses by the government.

It comes as Iran's Revolutionary Guards announced they had arrested more than 100 protest leaders.

On Friday, Gholamhossein Esmaili, spokesman for Iran's judiciary, said:

"Approximately 100 leaders, heads and main figures of the recent unrest were identified and arrested in various parts of the country by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps."

Demonstrations erupted in cities across Iran last Friday after the government raised the price of petrol.

Protesters were seen blocking roads with their cars, attacking police stations and torching petrol pumps in videos posted online before Iranian authorities cut off internet access.

"I have asked the Iranian protesters to send us their videos, photos and information documenting the regime's crackdown on protesters," US Secretary of State Mike Mr Pompeo tweeted on Thursday.

"The US will expose and sanction the abuses," he said.

Mr Pompeo had earlier infuriated Iran by tweeting support for the protesters, saying "the United States is with you".

The near-total internet shutdown has made it difficult to obtain information about the extent of violence used to suppress the protesters. Officials have confirmed five deaths, but Amnesty International has said the real death toll could more than 100.

The European Union on Friday criticised the violence used by the regime and urged restraint.

"Socio-economic challenges should be addressed through inclusive dialogue and not through the use of violence. We expect Iran's security forces to exercise maximum restraint in handling the protests and for protesters to demonstrate peacefully,” an EU statement said.

“Any violence is unacceptable. The rights to freedom of expression and assembly must be guaranteed. We also expect the Iranian authorities to ensure the free flow of information and access to the internet,” it added.

On Thursday, US President Donald Trump accused Iran of blocking the internet to cover up "death and tragedy".

"Iran has become so unstable that the regime has shut down their entire Internet System so that the Great Iranian people cannot talk about the tremendous violence taking place within the country," Mr Trump tweeted.

The US comments followed a statement by Iran's Revolutionary Guard praising the armed forces for taking "timely action" against "rioters" and suggesting that calm had been restored.

Iranian authorities have said internet access was being restored gradually, in another indication that the protests had been quelled. The internet watchdog NetBlocks said on Thursday that "national connectivity has risen further to 10 per cent".

Amnesty International said on Tuesday that at least 106 people had been killed during the protests and the subsequent security crackdown. The UN rights commission said it feared the unrest may have killed “a significant number of people”.

“The frequency and persistence of lethal force used against peaceful protesters in these and previous mass protests, as well as the systematic impunity for security forces who kill protesters, raise serious fears that the intentional lethal use of firearms to crush protests has become a matter of state policy,” said Philip Luther at Amnesty International.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, who blamed the protests on "Zionists and Americans”, has said the fuel price increase would fund new subsidies for the poor.

The increase in petrol prices by as much as 200 per cent places another burden on Iranians who are suffering through an economic downturn caused by crippling US economic sanctions, particularly on Iran's oil exports.

Mr Trump reimposed the sanctions after pulling the US out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, citing its failure to curb Tehran's missile programme and regional meddling.

Iran’s state TV said on Friday that air defence exercises were being carried out as part of its annual military drills. State TV showed footage of air defence missile systems being fired and a patrol by jet fighters in the northern Semnan province.

Iran operates a domestically built air defence system alongside the sophisticated S-300 defense system from Russia. In June, Iran shot down an unmanned US drone over the strategic Strait of Hormuz for alleged violation of its airspace.

Meanwhile, activists said on Thursday that six conservationists working to save the endangered Asiatic cheetah had been sentenced to prison on espionage charges by an Iranian court.

The New York-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran said the members of the nonprofit Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation faced six to 10 years in prison for “contacts with the US enemy state”. The conservationists were arrested over the use of camera traps to track the cheetahs, a common tool of wildlife experts.

Updated: November 22, 2019 09:18 PM

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