Rouhani: free the "innocents" arrested during fuel hike protests

The Iranian president hopes for the release of those who have demonstrated peacefully and unarmed. He invokes the "religious and Islamic clemency". Activists speak of 208 victims, but according to some deaths would be about 400. At least 200 thousand people involved, 7 thousand arrested but there are no independent confirmations.

Tehran (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called for the release of "innocent" protesters (because peaceful and unarmed), arrested in recent weeks in the context of street protests against the increase in fuel prices.

" Religious and Islamic clemency should be shown and those innocent people who protested against petrol price hikes and were not armed...should be released” - he said yesterday in a TV address.

The protests started last November 15, following the government's unexpected decision to ration the oil and remove the subsidies, triggering a surge of up to 200%. Behind the increases, US President Donald Trump's decision in May 2018 to pull out of the 2015 nuclear agreement (JCPOA) ​​and impose the toughest sanctions in history, which hit hard the population and triggered a serious economic crisis.

The authorities intervened forcefully to suppress the discontent, blocking internet and social media for over a week to prevent the circulation of images and videos that witnessed the violence. According to the latest report released by Amnesty International, the number of victims would be at least 208 but the number could be far greater. Other groups and sources within the Islamic Republic, with anonymity, speak of about 400 deaths.

On estimates, the spokesman of the Iranian judiciary Gholamhossein Esmaili speaks of "absolute lies" touted by "hostile groups". On December 3, President Hassan Rouhani himself ordered the commission of inquiry to investigate possible cases of abuse of civilians in the repression of protests and to proceed with compensation to victims of personal or material damage.

Activists and NGOs accuse the authorities of having deliberately covered the real extent of the repression of the demonstrations, which have touched at least 100 different locations. Iran's Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli talks about 200,000 people involved in the protests, at least 731 banks, 70 fuel stations and 140 government offices damaged or set on fire. Even 50 bases and security centers would be attacked.

Hossein Naqavi-Hosseini, a member of the parliamentary security commission, reported about 7,000 arrests related to the demonstrations. Estimates downsized by the head of the judiciary, which adds that the majority of those arrested "during the riots" have already been released and remain "only" 300 people still in custody and subject to investigation.