Six months after hundreds of protesters and civilians were killed by unlawful force during the 2019 November protests, the authorities have yet to provide answers for the victims’ families. Instead, the families have had to settle for proposals of money and ‘martyrdom’.

Justice for Iran’s report “Mockery of Justice: State’s Policies and Laws Regarding the Victims of Iran’s 2019 November Protests,” confirms that , in line with the Supreme Leader’s approved policy, the authorities refused to initiate judicial investigations or criminal proceedings.

On November 15th, 2019, after fuel prices suddenly trembled, thousands of people took to the streets in Iran. Collecting, geo-locating, and analysing over 1200 publicly available videos and corroborating them with the accounts of eyewitnesses, Justice for Iran concludes that in less than 5 days, in 39 cities, across 15 provinces of Iran, the state armed forces used potentially lethal means (including live ammunition and metal plates) and killed hundreds of people. While the protests were mostly peaceful, the authorities attempted to distort the facts by manipulating two narratives around the events. The first narrative alleged that the victims were killed by suspicious elements among protestors. The second one claimed that the state forces deployed lethal force only when protestors posed threat to the lives of people.

On December 4th, 2019, Ali Khamenei the Supreme Leader of Iran, agreed to the proposal made by Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, regarding the classification of the victims. Accordingly, the victims are divided into three groups (bystanders, protestors, and armed rioters), and families of each group are to be treated differently.

According to this state policy, the victims in the first group are recognized “as martyrs” and their families should receive blood money, as well as monthly wages and other benefits from the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs. The families of those in the second group should receive only blood money. The families of the third group receive nothing, and the authorities would somehow console them if found to be decent and respectful. What is striking is that the policy does not recommend initiating any judicial investigation into the events to identify and prosecute the perpetrators, considering all the killings during the protests as lawful.

According to the Executive By-Law on the Definition of Martyrdom, Martyr and Martyrs’ Families, “civilians who are killed [accidentally] in a crossfire between military or intelligence forces with enemies, anti-revolutionaries and villains”, are considered “as martyrs” and their families are entitled to both financial and social advantages of martyrdom status. Furthermore, based on the Islamic Penal Code, if an individual is murdered in the crowd and the murderer has not been identified, or if it has been committed by a state agent who was carrying out legal orders, the blood money shall be paid by the government.

Following the policy approved by the Supreme Leader, President Hassan Rouhani, (who is also the head of the Supreme Council for National Security), ordered the provincial governors to form special committees to implement the policy. The accounts collected from the families of 48 victims across Iran, and documented in the “Mockery of Justice”, demonstrate that shortly after the November protests a campaign was formed by the state to ensure that there will be no truth or justice. These accounts reveal that the state policy has been carried out using two measures: intimidating the families of victims to prevent them from filing lawsuits, and coercing them to accept and confirm the narratives concocted by the authorities. Some families reported that the bodies of their loved ones were released only they signed a commitment letter, stating that they would not file a complaint or speak out publicly. Some were even forced to confirm in writing, without any investigation, that their loved ones were murdered by rioters and not the state armed forces.

“Persecuting, intimidating, and buying off the families of victims,” says Shadi Sadr, Co-Director of Justice for Iran, “the authorities try to give the status of martyrdom to as many victims as possible. This is in line with their efforts to establish their narrative of the events, alleging that the victims were killed by suspicious elements among protestors.”

Only a few families have managed to file formal complaints asking for an investigation into the death of their loved ones and prosecution of the perpetrators, and none of them were promised a criminal proceeding. The report documents 23 accounts of them. Instead, in line with the policy approved by the Supreme Leader, 10 families were offered blood money. They were told that they would enjoy the status of a martyrs’ families, provided that their loved ones were recognised as innocent and the family would cooperate with the authorities and consider their case settled. Justice for Iran has also collected information on 19 other victims’ families who had not filed legal complaints but were approached by the authorities with the same propositions. In addition to local governments, judicial authorities, Friday prayer Imams, Police and IRGC’s commanders and officials from the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs have been involved in approaching families with similar proposals. According to the findings of Justice for Iran, families’ reasons for accepting these proposals varied, ranging from maintaining the families’ financial needs, to protecting family members and preventing persecution and intimidation in the future.

The Iranian authorities have refused so far to announce the exact number of the victims, and  determining the exact number of the families who have accepted or declined the government propositions is not possible due to the security concerns surrounding these cases. Nevertheless, the findings of the report confirm that some families who have declined the authorities’ proposals and insisted that the perpetrators should be identified and tried, were told their loved ones were rioters and they were not entitled to take any measures.

Shadi Sadr asks: “If the claim made by the authorities is true and the victims posed a threat to the lives of others, or they were not killed by the state armed forces but by the suspicious elements among protestors, why has no judicial investigation been conducted for the identification and prosecution of perpetrators, and worse, why is it that filing complaints and pursuing lawsuits are impossible?”

According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights  (ICCPR), the Islamic Republic of Iran has an obligation to respect and to ensure the right to life, an important element of this obligation is the duty to investigate and prosecute allegations of deprivation of life, including allegations of excessive use of lethal force.