Human rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday (March 4th) accused the Iranian security forces of killing 23 children, mostly with live ammunition, during a November crackdown on anti-government protests.
Protests broke out across Iran on November 15th after a surprise gas price rise was announced. The authorities responded with a crackdown that Amnesty has already said left 304 people dead, a figure Tehran disputes.
Recent years have seen larger and louder protests in Iran as citizens voice their grievances against deteriorating living conditions that they blame on the regime's expansionist and interventionist agenda in the region.
Amnesty said in its new report it had evidence that at least 23 children were killed, with 22 of them killed by the security forces "unlawfully firing live ammunition at unarmed protestors and bystanders".
The children killed included 22 boys, aged between 12 and 17, and a girl reportedly aged between eight and 12.
"There must be independent and impartial investigations into these killings, and those suspected of ordering and carrying them out must be prosecuted in fair trials," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
'Quash dissent at any cost'
Twelve of the 23 deaths -- recorded in 13 cities in six provinces across the country --- took place on November 16th, a further eight on November 17th, and three on November 18th, according to Amnesty.
"The fact that the vast majority of the children's deaths took place over just two days is further evidence that Iranian security forces went on a killing spree to quash dissent at any cost," Luther said.
Amnesty International said it had written to Iran's Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli with the names of the 23 children recorded as killed but had received no response.
It said relatives of some of the children killed described being subjected to harassment and intimidation, including surveillance and interrogations by intelligence and security officials.
It said this corresponded with a broad pattern of families of those killed in protests being intimidated by the state to prevent them talking openly about the deaths.
"Families of children killed during the protests are facing a ruthless campaign of harassment to intimidate them from speaking out," said Luther, denouncing a "state cover-up".
Its report was based on evidence from videos and photographs, as well as death and burial certificates, accounts from eyewitnesses and victims' relatives as well as information gathered from human rights activists and journalists.
In one child's case, there were conflicting reports on the cause of death, with one source referring to fatal head injuries sustained by beatings by security forces and another referring to the firing of metal pellets at the victim's face from a close distance, it said.