Iran disputed death tolls issued abroad for the bloodshed that erupted during protests in the country over fuel prices after a rights group said over 160 demonstrators were killed. The demonstrations flared in mid-November after the price of petrol in the Islamic republic went up overnight by as much as 200 percent. Officials in Iran have yet to say how many people died in the ensuing violence that saw banks, petrol pumps and police stations set on fire. London-based human rights group Amnesty International said in a tweet on Friday that the crackdown claimed the lives of 161 demonstrators.
But Iran's deputy interior minister, Jamal Orf, disputed such figures. "Statistics by international organisations on those killed in the recent incidents are not credible," he was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA. Orf accused the sources that reported the figures of "exaggerating" them. The prosecution service, he added, was set to announce the figures based on those it receives from the coroner's office.
Prior to its latest tweet, Amnesty International said on Monday that 143 demonstrators had been killed in the crackdown, citing what it called "credible reports". The governments of the United States, France and Germany have condemned Iran over the bloodshed.
On November 17, Iranian security arrested eight people with links to the CIA amid the protests. Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the widespread protests a "very dangerous conspiracy." He even pinned the blame on the US and the West for propagating the protests in Iraq and Lebanon against the establishment.
He said, "The worst damage the enemies can cause to any country is to deny its security. You see – this is what the enemies started doing in some countries in our region. They are implementing this. They are denying security from the people of certain countries. The perpetrators of these acts of evil are known to all. In the world, the forces of arrogance – and most of all America and the Western intelligence services – are causing riots, with the financial support of some reactionary countries among our neighboring countries, countries close to us, and the countries of the region."
The unrest broke out on November 15, hours after it was announced that the price of gas would rise to 15,000 rials per liter (12 US cents) from 10,000 for the first 60 liters, and to 30,000 rials for any extra fuel bought after that each month. Iran's economy has been battered since last year when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from a 2015 nuclear agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions on the Islamic republic.
The government in Tehran said proceeds from the fuel price hike would go to the neediest people in the country. According to IRNA, the payments have since been made in three installations between November 18 and 23.
(With PTI inputs)