USCIRF calls for UN inquiry into Iran’s crackdown on protesters after nearly 200 are killed

Protesters gather to demonstrate against the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran on September 23, 2022, in Berlin, Germany.
Protesters gather to demonstrate against the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran on September 23, 2022, in Berlin, Germany. | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has called for a U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Iran after nearly 200 protesters, including at least 23 minors, have allegedly been killed in the crackdown on anti-government protests. Weeks of unrelenting protests were spurred by the killing of Mahsa Amini, a young woman arrested by the Iranian “morality police” for not properly wearing a hijab last month.

Since morality police killed 22-year-old Amini on Sept. 16, after detaining her for wearing “improper hijab,” Iranians have been protesting mandatory religious headscarf (hijab) laws, and Iranian authorities have responded with “brutal crackdowns, arrests, and killings of women peacefully protesting,” said the commission in a statement Friday.

“Iran’s use of excessive and lethal force against protesters asserting their religious freedom is a deplorable violation of international law for which there must be full accountability,” said USCIRF Chair Nury Turkel. “Iranian protesters are asking that their voices be heard. We urge the Biden administration to support a U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Iran to ensure that Iranian security forces cannot silence Iranians seeking religious freedom with impunity.”

The repression includes the killing of members of religious minorities, including 19 Sunni worshippers leaving the Makki Mosque in Zahedan on Sept. 30, according to the commission, a bipartisan body tasked with advising the U.S. federal government and Congress on religious freedom issues.

“The time is long overdue for Iranian security officials who repress those seeking freedom of religion to face accountability,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Abraham Cooper.

“Iranians risking their lives for greater freedom of religion deserve the unwavering support of the international community. The Biden administration must pursue every available measure to unify a global coalition that will act decisively as Iranian security officials continue to respond with violence to appeals for greater religious freedom.”

The Islamic Republic’s morality police, known as Gasht-e Ershad or “Guidance Patrol,” is part of the country’s law enforcement and enforces respect for Islamic morals as described by clerical authorities.

Amini was interrogated at the Vozara detention center, where she reportedly sustained blows to the head while under interrogation. Authorities claim she died of natural causes, but critics are skeptical.

Acting U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif earlier called for an impartial investigation by an “independent competent authority, that ensures, in particular, that her family has access to justice and truth.”

The U.N. said Amini’s death came as morality police had expanded street patrols in recent months, “subjecting women perceived to be wearing ‘loose hijab’ to verbal and physical harassment and arrest.” The U.N. Human Rights Office has received numerous verified videos of violent treatment of women, including women being beaten with batons and thrown into police vans.

Meanwhile, the protests carry on, according to Reuters, which said the unrest had underlined pent-up frustrations over freedoms and rights in the country.

Iran’s internet-savvy youth are refusing to be silenced in their fight, said The Telegraph observed.

Nika Shakarami, a 16-year-old girl who was one among thousands of brave schoolgirls who have cast off their headscarves and “given portraits of the Supreme Leader the middle finger,” was killed during the protests, the newspaper said.

“The fear factor in Iran has been shattered by the country’s courageous youth,” Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Iran affairs expert and former hostage of the regime, was quoted as saying. 

“This is a generation who have never known a government other than the Islamic Republic, and have never known a leader other than [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei. The regime elites are overwhelmingly elderly … yet 60 percent of Iran’s population is under 30.” 

The government’s crackdown has been particularly intense in Kurdish regions where security forces have put down unrest by the Kurdish minority in the past, said Reuters, noting that Kurds, who form about 10% of the population, are among those who face discrimination under Iran’s Shi’ite clerical establishment.

The nationwide protests are the largest in Iran since the 2019 “Green Movement,” an anti-government uprising in which 1,500 people were reportedly killed in a crackdown, according to Reuters.

Iran is ranked the ninth worst country when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List.

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