UN human rights experts urged Iranian authorities to respect the rights of protesters and voiced concern over Tehran’s restriction of social messaging services in a joint statement issued Friday by the UN agency for human rights.
The statement by four Special Rapporteurs — expert advisers to the United Nations who work on a voluntary basis — comes eight days after anti-government protests first broke out in Iran.
At least 21 people were killed and 450 were arrested in the protests, many in clashes with security forces trying to quell the rallies.
The protests, the most powerful challenge to the regime in years, appeared to have fizzled Thursday, after a claim by Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari that the unrest was officially over. Mass pro-government rallies have taken their place in many Iranian cities.
“We are very disturbed by the way the authorities have responded to the protests,” the four Special Rapporteurs said in their statement, released by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“The government’s instruction to the Revolutionary Guards to hit hard against the protesters, and the judiciary’s threats of harsh punishment, are unacceptable.
“We urge the authorities to exercise restraint and respond proportionately in their efforts to control the protests, to limit the use of force to a strict minimum, and to fully respect the human rights of the protesters, including their rights to life, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
The UN experts said they shared the concerns of Iranian civil society groups for those arrested.
“We are also very concerned at reports that the Government has blocked the internet on mobile networks, and that social media services like Instagram and messaging services like Telegram have been shut down in an attempt to quell the protests,” they said.
“In some regions, internet access has been blocked altogether. Communication blackouts constitute a serious violation of fundamental rights.”
The experts added that the lack of measures to address the underlying causes of the unrest through non-violent means was “disturbing.”
The protests began just over a week ago over Iran’s stagnant economy and the rising cost of living and developed into a broader outcry against the government.
The United Nations Security Council will convene a meeting on the situation in Iran at 3 p.m. ET Friday. It is expected the session, which was requested by the United States, will begin with a briefing by a UN political official. Iran could also speak.
In Tehran, firebrand cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami delivered a fiery sermon for Friday prayers at the Grand Mosalla in which he accused the United States and Israel of fomenting protest.
“What occurs in our country these days, emanates from America’s pent-up feelings, since the oppressors have experienced one defeat after another, throughout the world,” he said.
He also promised the clergy’s support over the legitimate demands of poor and working-class citizens, saying the government should listen to them, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency.
The presence of Khatami, who often leads Friday prayers in turbulent times, signaled that the authorities are taking recent events across the country very seriously.
Numbers in attendance at the mosque, always busy and bustling on a Friday — Islam’s holy day — appeared even larger than usual, with the faithful overcrowding the space. A march began from outside the prayer hall once prayers ended.
State-run broadcaster IRINN reported that demonstrators from 40 different areas of greater Tehran province would march on Friday, in order “to protest the rioters and disrupters of public safety.”
Iranian state media broadcast wall-to-wall images of pro-government rallies in Tehran, Kerman and Tabriz on Friday.
It’s not yet clear whether anti-government protests will break out again Friday.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli claimed Thursday that no more than 42,000 people had taken part in the anti-government protests since Dec. 28, according to the semiofficial Iranian Student News Agency. That isn’t a high number of people, Fazli said, adding that protests are “normal occurrences and happen in all countries.”
On Wednesday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps pinned the number at 15,000.
CNN has not been able to verify either number.
US, Iran trade barbs
In a statement released late Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned other nations against trying to impede the Security Council’s discussion of what she called a “troubling and dangerous situation” in Iran.
“The world has witnessed the horrors that have taken place in Syria, that began with a murderous regime denying its people’s right to peacefully protest,” she said. “We must not let that happen in Iran. This is a matter of fundamental human rights for the Iranian people, but it is also a matter of international peace and security.”
Iranian and U.S. officials have traded barbs for the past week, and Tehran maintains that the United States and its allies orchestrated the unrest.
Tehran accused US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence of inciting Iranians to protest against the government through a series of tweets and described U.S. interference in Iranian issues as “grotesque.”
There is no evidence that Washington had any direct role in orchestrating the anti-government protests, beyond encouragement through social media and published remarks.
Follow this story