On March 6, 2024: On the eve of International Women’s Day, the Justice for Iran organization released its comprehensive report on suppressing units involved in the deadly crackdown on the protests in the year 2022-23. The report titled “Waging War on Civilians: Exposing Iran’s Repressive Units and Crimes Against Humanity.”, based on the review of 35,000 pieces of audiovisual evidence collected by Justice for Iran relation to the “Women, Life, Freedom” protests, has identified at least twenty suppression units within the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Basij, and the police force. The responsibility of some of these military units in suppressing the protests, including the combat battalions of Imam Hossein in the IRGC provincial Corps, and Special Forces combat units like the 3rd Division of Hamzeh Seyed Al-Shohada, 15th Brigade of Imam Hassan Special Forces, and Mahdi Special Forces Unit, is for the first time investigated within the framework of international law. The report also identifies 526 individuals who played a role in crimes against the protesters.

The findings of this 250-page report, submitted to the UN Fact Finding Commission, indicate that the authorities of the Islamic Republic at the highest levels responded to protests under the label of “hybrid war” and treated them as an armed conflict. They categorized protesters as combatants or Muharb and deployed military combat units specialized in confronting and killing armed combatants, along with security forces equipped with deadly light and heavy military grade weapons for suppressing the protesters. These forces were authorised to kill, torture, and terrorise protesters and even passersby, who are unequivocally classified as civilians according to the principles of international law.

By examining the statements of government officials, this report demonstrates that since September 21, 2022, senior government officials have used the word “war” or the phrase “hybrid war” to describe the popular protests and even compared the protests to the Iran-Iraq war. Concurrently, Mohammad Baqeri, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, issued an order to military commanders nationwide to suppress the protesters, resulting in a significant increase in the death toll, with about 62 fatalities, the highest toll before the bloody Friday of Zahedan.

According to the findings of this report, the government, at least in Tehran, Kermanshah, West Azerbaijan, Khuzestan, Sistan and Baluchistan, and Kurdistan provinces, has utilized combat units Special forces of Basij and combat units of  Special Forces of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In at least 13 provinces of the country, security forces have used lethal military weapons, including automatic rifles (such as AK-47 or AKM) and lethal sidearms (such as SIG Sauer P226, P225s, and Zoaf).

In Kurdistan, Sistan and Baluchistan, Alborz, Fars, and West Azerbaijan provinces, sniper units equipped with long-range precision rifles have been stationed. These forces were from both police special  units and the IRGC. In at least 5 cases, security forces (comprising police special units, IRGC, and Basij paramilitaries) deliberately targeted civilians who were filming the protests, shooting them with live ammunition and killing them. The report also shows a pattern of using long-range precision rifles to deliberately target civilians standing among the crowds, which was also seen in the suppression of the November 2019 protests.

The findings of the report indicate that security forces, as part of a pre-designed and practiced plan, deliberately targeted protesters, passersby, passing vehicles, public transportation, residential buildings, commercial buildings, and medical centers to instill fear and terror among citizens. These actions were carried out extensively in at least 15 cities in 10 provinces. The videos collected by Justice for Iran show at least 40 instances of indiscriminate shooting at protesters, passersby, and passing vehicles, and 63 instances of shooting at residential buildings, shops, and hospitals.

Findings also show that security forces severely beat protesters who were detained and showed no resistance with the sole purpose of humiliating them or punishing them by inflicting severe physical pain. In many cases, security forces attempted to use less lethal weapons in a manner that could be deadly to inflict maximum pain and physical harm. This includes shooting at civilians with shotguns and airguns from a distance of less than one meter, shooting at the head, genitals, eyes, or other vital organs, beating them with batons on the head or face, and directly firing tear gas at them or their vehicles. These criminal acts have been documented in 26 cities in 19 provinces.

The visual evidence collected shows that security forces in at least 9 provinces, including Tehran, Isfahan, East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Qom, Kurdistan, Golestan, Sistan and Baluchistan, and Mazandaran, have used child soldiers under the age of 15.

Nearly all identified patterns of suppression in recent protests were repeated in previous periods, especially in November 2019. The statements and directives of the authorities, the recurrence of these patterns, and the widespread and frequent occurrence of these incidents nationwide indicate that they are not accidental or the result of individual violations, but rather a systematic plan at the highest levels of government for the slaughter and torture of civilians, which constitutes a clear example of crimes against humanity.

Omid Shams, operations director of Justice for Iran and one of the authors of this investigative report, says: “Given the findings of this report, the international community must hold the perpetrators of these crimes accountable by imposing effective human rights sanctions, supporting independent truth-finding mechanisms, and using the principle of universal jurisdiction.”

With the death of Jina Mahsa Amini on September 16, 2022, in the custody of the “Morality Police” of the Islamic Republic, a wave of protests began, quickly spreading across the country. These protests were mostly peaceful. However, security forces responded to these protests with unprecedented violence under direct orders from the highest government authorities.

The “Waging War on Civilians ” report begins with evaluating the legality of the government’s decisions and the actions of security forces during the crackdown on protests through analysing the laws related to the right to assembly and demonstration and laws related to the possession and use of firearms. It then maps the chain of command in issuing orders for the massacre of protesters. In the next stage, it outlines a comprehensive picture of various military and security units involved in the suppression of protesters. Finally, using various research methods such as Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), interviews with experts and witnesses, and comprehensive analysis of audiovisual evidence collected from protests and archived in an online database, it examines the nature and extent of serious human rights violations and the equipment used in the suppression of protests, highlighting the systematic nature of these methods, which have been repeated in the previous waves of protests such as the November 2019. Out of the 35,000 pieces of audio and video evidence collected by Justice for Iran, more than 2,300 videos and images depicting scenes of suppression and killing of protesters or indicating the type of equipment used to suppress the protests have been selected and subjected to detailed analysis as the primary source of evidence and documentation in this report.

You can download the full report here

annex 1- The Law on the Use of Weapons by Armed Forces in Necessary Cases

Annex 2- Database of Videos with scenes of violence or military equipment

Annex 3- Videos thematically categorised

Annex 4- Uniforms of suppression units

Annex 5-  List of perpetrators

Annex 6- Table of units involved in the suppression of protests