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Unrest killed 25 … Iran frees hundreds

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TEHRAN, Jan 14, (Agencies): A total of 25 people were killed in the recent unrest that hit several towns and cities across Iran, the judiciary said Sunday, with 465 still under arrest. “Twenty-five people, ordinary citizens and our own forces, were killed during the recent troubles,” said judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie, according to the Mizanonline news agency.

“None were killed by shots from the security forces because they were ordered not to use their weapons,” he added. He provided no details on how the members of the security forces or civilians were killed, including six protesters who died while trying to storm a police station in the central province of Isfahan.

The figure was four more than the death toll announced during the unrest that spread across the country between Dec 28 and Jan 1. “At most, there were 465 people under arrest across the country as of yesterday, while a certain number have probably been released since then,” Ejeie said, adding that the number included 55 in Tehran. Reformist lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi had said on Tuesday that 3,700 people were arrested during the protests, without saying how many were later released. The unrest began over economic issues, but quickly grew into protests against the Islamic regime as a whole, with attacks on government and police buildings. The government has said a total of 42,000 people participated in the unrest — a figure that is hard to verify due to limited information from the provinces where most of the unrest took place.

Iranian officials said Sunday that hundreds of people detained in recent weeks during anti-government protests have been released and acknowledged that at least 25 people were killed during the unrest. The demonstrations that erupted in a number of towns and cities were the largest seen in Iran since the disputed 2009 presidential election, but authorities say the unrest has waned in recent days, and the security forces insist they have restored order. Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said 440 “arrested rioters” have been released in Tehran alone.

The semi-official Fars news agency quoted judiciary spokesman Gholamhosein Mohseni Ejehi as saying that just 55 people remain in detention in the capital in connection with the protests. It was not clear how many Iranians are still detained elsewhere, and the largest and most violent of the demonstrations were held in the provinces.

Last week, an Iranian reformist lawmaker, Mahmoud Sadeghi, said some 3,700 people were arrested across the country. The protests, which began three weeks ago, were initially sparked by anger at the weak economy and official corruption, but escalated rapidly, with some protesters calling for the overthrow of the government and clashing with security forces. Ejehi, the judiciary spokesman, said Sunday that at least 25 people were killed in the clashes, while insisting that none died at the hands of security forces.

Officials had previously said 21 people were killed. Iranian officials have acknowledged the widespread anger over the economy, which remains weak despite the lifting of international sanctions under the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers. But they have portrayed the violence as part of a conspiracy by the United States, Israel and other countries to try to overthrow the clerically-overseen government. The United States and Israel have expressed support for the protests but deny any involvement in them. Iranian authorities have arrested a dual national who was taking pictures during recent unrest, Iran’s judiciary spokesman was quoted as saying on Sunday, as security forces sought to contain the most widespread protests in the country since 2009.

“As far as I was able to find out, we had a dual national arrested and this person had been taking pictures and filming,” Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei told a weekly news conference, according to the semi-official news agency Fars. Mohseni Ejei gave no further details. In early January, an Iranian judicial official said a European citizen had been arrested in anti-government protests in Borujerd county, western Iran, but did not specify the nationality of the detainee. The official accused the unnamed detainee of having been “trained by European intelligence services … leading the rioters”. In other news, Iran has lifted restrictions imposed during recent protests on the country’s most popular social media app Telegram. AFP journalists were able to access the service on Sunday and officials confirmed it has been restored.

“The information concerning the end of filtering on Telegram is correct,” a spokesman for the telecoms ministry told AFP. Telegram, which counts some 25 million users in Iran, was blocked on mobile phones during the five days of unrest that hit dozens of cities over the new year.

The semi-official ISNA news agency said the restrictions on Telegram had been “entirely lifted under orders of (President Hassan Rouhani).” The government accused “counterrevolutionaries” and foreign groups of inciting violence via social media during the unrest, and also temporarily cut mobile access to photo sharing app Instagram. They also blocked some VPN privacy apps, which are commonly used to get around longstanding bans on sites such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Rouhani said during the unrest that the restrictions were necessary, but should not be “indefinite”. He accused conservative opponents of using the protests to impose widespread censorship.

“You want to take the opportunity to shut down this social media for eternity. You might sleep well, but 40 million people had problems … 100,000 people lost their jobs,” Rouhani said on Jan 9, referring to complaints that many businesses were hit by the Telegram shutdown. The head of the country’s cybercrime committee, Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, had earlier criticised the government for not blocking Telegram sooner, and said officials should be “punished” if it was found they deliberately failed to act against online “trouble-makers and enemies”. Conservatives have also called for the development of local apps to replace Instagram and Telegram. Rouhani’s support for temporary restrictions still represented something of a reversal for a president who has vowed to end all online censorship. Just three weeks before the unrest, on Dec 19, Rouhani told the country’s first conference on civil liberties: “We will not seek to filter social media. Our telecoms minister promises the people he will never touch the filtering button.”

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