What videos reveal Iran’s handling of protests?
Visual forensic analysis shows authorities use force indiscriminately, using violent arrests and throttling internet services to quell demonstrations.
The ongoing protests began in response to the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who fell into a coma after being arrested by the country’s hated “morality police.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, claimed on Monday that the unrest was instigated by foreign powers, blaming protesters for the violence: “Those who attack the police leave Iranian citizens vulnerable to thugs, robbers and extortionists “, he said.
Khamenei gave his full support to the security forces and signaled that another wave of repression could come.
To understand the extent of the government’s crackdown on protesters, The Washington Post analyzed hundreds of videos and photos of protests, spoke to human rights activists, interviewed protesters, and reviewed data collected by Internet surveillance groups. The Post geolocated videos of protests in at least 22 cities – from the Kurdistan Region, where the protests began, to Bandar Abbas, a port city on the Persian Gulf, to Rasht on the Caspian coast.
The investigation focused on three key tactics used by the government to quell the protests – the apparent use of live ammunition by security forces, targeted arrests and throttling of internet service.
The Post polled protesters in Marivan, Balo and Tehran, who confirmed the findings. All spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the security forces.
The protester in Marivan, a town of 50,000 in western Kurdistan, described the scene on Saturday as resembling martial law. “All the security forces were outside. … I would say more than 1,000. They filled every square, every intersection and every main street.”
The Post geolocated videos from seven cities that appear to show security forces shooting at protesters. Although it was impossible to verify the type of rounds used from the videos alone, “it is very likely [security forces] have used live rounds against protesters throughout events over the past few days and weeks,” said NR Jenzen-Jones, the director of Armament Research Services, which reviewed the videos for The Post.
Security forces have been shooting at protesters indiscriminately since the protests began, according to 1500 Tasvir, an anti-government surveillance group. videos taken on September 17 in the Kurdish town of Saqqez – Amini’s hometown – seem to confirm this claim. They show demonstrators marching through the city center on the same day as Amini’s funeral. They are quickly dispersed by police officers on motorbikes firing towards the crowd.
Video filmed on nearby side streets shows a frantic group carrying an unconscious and bloodied young man to a medical facility.
Analysts from Janes, a defense intelligence group, also reviewed videos for The Post and found that at least two videos likely showed the use of live ammunition.
In video released Sept. 20, officers fire pistols into the air and at retreating crowds in the northern city of Rasht. According to Andrew Galer, chief of land platforms and weapons at Janes, the officer on the left is likely firing live shots into the air where there is no point of impact.
A video posted in Tehran on Sept. 23 shows a man in army fatigues calmly aiming and firing a variant of an AK-47 assault rifle, according to Janes. While blanks are made for the AK-47, Janes said there is no record of any less-lethal or riot control rounds being made for the weapon. “On probability, [these] will be counted as live rounds,” Galer concluded.
A leaked document from the Iranian Armed Forces headquarters dated September 21 — obtained by Amnesty International and verified by The Post — ordered security forces to “seriously confront” protesters. Another document issued two days later by the commander of the armed forces in Mazandaran province went even further, ordering the security forces “to mercilessly oppose any disturbances by rioters and anti-revolutionaries, going so far as to cause deaths.”
Protesters in the western cities of Marivan and Balo, interviewed by The Post, told the Post they saw security forces shooting at protesters.
“Security forces shot directly at people in Darai Square,” said the demonstrator in Marivan, describing a crackdown on October 1. “They had no intention of arresting or calming the situation. They just wanted to shoot.”
The Balo protester described a chilling “ambush” by the Basij on September 21. a paramilitary force commanded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. “Members of the Basij were already on the roofs of nearby buildings,” the protester said. “They started firing in the air and the crowd dispersed.” Other Basij fighters came out into the street, firing first in the air and then directly at the fleeing protesters, he told the Post.
Two young men were killed in the hail of bullets, he said – one shot in the stomach, another in the throat. Her death was confirmed by Hengaw, a Kurdish rights group, and videos of her funerals were shared with The Post.
The Post verified and located five videos showing security forces violently arresting protesters in five cities in Iran over the past two weeks. The videos show security forces often detaining protesters away from the crowd on side streets. Some arresting officers traveled on motorcycles, allowing them to quickly pounce on protesters and take them away.
The protester in Balo told of members of the Basij making arrests in the middle of the night on September 21 and using tear gas to force civilians out of their homes.
“She [the Basij] come in civilian clothes and cover their faces. That creates fear,” said the protester.
As of September 30, security forces in Balo had arrested at least 50 people and the majority are still in custody, according to the protester. “There are no more protests in Balo because of the fear they created,” the protester said. “You don’t see anyone after 10 p.m.”
are prisoners in Iran routinely tortured and other inhuman treatment, human rights groups have found, and families often have difficulty obtaining information about detained loved ones. “The documented cases of torture and other ill-treatment are a concern that hundreds of people arrested since the protests began are at risk of similar treatment in detention,” Amnesty said.
In a video from Gorgan, the capital of Golestan province in the Northeast, police on motorcycles surround and beat a protester outside a closed shop at night before arresting him.
In Tehran, video shows officers leading a man in a black shirt, hands behind his back, to a busy downtown street. They then force him onto the back of a motorcycle driven by an officer and speed off.
In another video from Kermanshah in the west, a protester surrounded by police officers on motorcycles is put in a police vehicle and driven away.
Iran has frequently used internet disruptions during times of unrest, making it difficult for protesters to communicate with each other and the outside world. But the cuts over the past two weeks have been more targeted and appear to show a greater level of sophistication.
According to Raha Bahreini, a human rights lawyer and Iran researcher, data on network traffic from Iran to Google’s web search product shows significant disruption in the evenings beginning September 21, the bloodiest night of protests to date and a key turning point in the government’s response for amnesty. The majority of deaths recorded by Amnesty occurred on 21 September.
According to The Post’s analysis of internet data, traffic patterns reveal a cyclical nature to the disruptions, which begin around 4 p.m. local time each afternoon — the end of Iran’s working day, when most protests begin — and return to normal levels after midnight.
Instagram and WhatsApp, major video-sharing platforms, were also shut down on September 21. according to NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors global Internet access. These restrictions coincided with a sudden drop in visual evidence from Iran.
The Post tracked the number of protest videos, which came from a Telegram account that regularly posts and distributes clips. The count showed the direct impact of internet connection throttling, with the number falling from around 80 new clips on September 21 to just 40 the day after.
1500 Tasvir told the Post that the group received more than 3,000 videos a day during the first days of the protests. After the increase in internet disruptions, that number dropped dramatically to around 100-200 videos per day.
The protesters, who spoke to The Post, confirmed the internet restrictions found in the data.
“Most people don’t have internet at home,” said the protester in Balo. “They only have internet on their SIM card and it cuts out between 4pm and 10pm. And even when it comes back it’s still very bad.”
This report was repeated by the protester in Marivan: “The internet cuts out every day at 3 or 4 p.m. and doesn’t come back until around midnight or 1 a.m.,” the protester said. “None of the big apps like Instagram or WhatsApp or Telegram work.”
Despite the violence of the security forces – and daily power outages – the protesters are still on the streets. For some, the crackdown has only made them more determined. The protester in Tehran recalled a scene from a recent protest where he and his compatriots dragged trash cans into the street and set them on fire. As security forces approached on motorcycles, they began chanting:
“We didn’t kill our people to make compromises.”
Kareem Fahim in Istanbul contributed to this report.