The Iranian people should be allowed to exercise their constitutional right to peaceful assembly without the threat of violence, said the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) after crowds that had gathered in Tehran following the government’s announcement that it had “unintentionally” shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane were met with armed state forces and tear gas.

“Despite the threat of state violence, brave Iranians are still trying to publicly express their fury over the government’s patterns of incompetence, falsehoods and lack of tolerance for criticism and dissent,” said CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.

“After successive national traumas in a short time period, people should be allowed to safely grieve and demand accountability,” he added. “Iranians shouldn’t have to risk their lives to exercise their constitutional right to peaceful assembly.”

According to Article 27 of the Iranian Constitution, “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.”

Yet Iranian officials have repeatedly ordered state forces to violently repress street protests, most recently resulting in the deaths of more than 300 people according to Amnesty International (other sources report significantly higher numbers) when demonstrations broke out in dozens of Iranian cities between November and December 2019.

Calls for justice and accountability by the victims’ families were quickly silenced when a U.S. drone strike killed the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, General Qassem Soleimani, on January 3, 2020, and the government swiftly organized mourning events that were attended by mass crowds.

Hours after the Iranian government responded to the U.S. strike by launching missiles at Iraqi bases used by U.S. forces on January 7 (no casualties were reported), it also shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing all 176 people on board. Three days passed before Iranian officials stated that they had “unintentionally” shot down the plane.

Crowds who’d gathered outside AmirKabir University of Technology in Tehran and other locations around the city during the evening of January 11 to mourn the victims and express their fury were met with police forces and tear gas, according to videos shared on social media networks.

“Our hands are empty, lay down your batons,” chanted one crowd standing across the street from police in a clip shared on Twitter by New York Times journalist Farnaz Fassih.

Crowds also demanded prosecution against the officials who were responsible for the strike, as activists called for the government to allow a public mourning ceremony for the victims of the downed plane.

Calls for more protests on January 12 were subsequently shared on social media networks.

CHRI calls on the Iranian government to refrain from trying to repress protests with force and to keep internet access, which is censored and restricted in the Islamic Republic, open when protests break out.

CHRI also urges all relevant UN bodies and the international community to strongly call upon the Iranian government to guarantee the security of all protestors and their right to peaceful protest.

As Iranians brace for another potential crackdown, it’s important to note that the Iranian government still hasn’t released an official accounting of the deaths and injuries caused by the state crackdown on the November protests.

“The Iranian people have a right to peacefully express their views and demand accountability from their government without fear of death, and that government has a duty to listen,” said Ghaemi.

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