- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2019

Iranian internal security forces have engaged in mass killings of demonstrators protesting the theocratic government in Tehran, according to the Trump administration’s top Iran envoy, who says authorities there “could have murdered over 1,000 Iranian citizens.”

State Department Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook made the assertion at a press briefing Thursday, echoing claims that an exiled Iranian dissident group calling for regime change in Tehran had circulated in Washington earlier this week.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is viewed with skepticism by some U.S. news outlets but has a history of revealing valuable intelligence from inside Iran and has positive relations with the Trump administration, said in a press release Tuesday that the number killed in the protests had “risen above 1,000.”

Mr. Hook brushed aside questions about the extent to which the NCRI and its affiliate Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) information gathering operation inside Iran may be influencing the direction of anti-regime protests that rocked at least 100 Iranian cities last month.

The special representative instead focused his remarks are the violence inflicted upon demonstrators, describing one incident in which he said U.S. officials believe Iranian security forces opened fire with machine guns on a large crowd of protesters, killing more than 100 and then loading their bodies onto trucks to be carted away.

Mr. Hook said U.S. officials do not know where those killed were taken.

“As the truth is trickling out of Iran, it appears the regime could have murdered over 1,000 Iranian citizens since the protests began,” he said. “We cannot be certain, because the regime blocks information. Among those murdered are at least a dozen children, including 13- and 14 year-olds.”

Mr. Hook said the State Department’s information was drawn from “crowdsourcing intelligence, intelligence reports from groups that have been publishing the death toll.” He added that U.S. officials “cannot be certain” of the number of people killed “because the regime blocks information.”

“We have seen reports from family members of victims who tried to recover the bodies,” Mr. Hook said. “The authorities demanded that the families first pay the cost of the bullets they used. In many cases, the authorities would not hand over the bodies until the families promised not to hold public funerals.”

“Many thousands of Iranians have been wounded and at least 7,000 protesters have been detained in Iran’s prisons,” he said, adding that U.S. officials believe prison conditions are horrific, with Iranian authorities engaging in “gross human rights violations” — in some cases raping and torturing protesters who’ve been detained.

The uprising in Iran has comes against a backdrop of dramatically increased economic sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic by the Trump administration, which has engaged in a self-described “maximum pressure campaign” against the government in Tehran.

The campaign has gained steam since President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 international nuclear accord with Iran last year. Administration officials have steered clear of saying their goal is regime change in Iran, instead asserting that they want to pressure the current government to behave “like a normal nation.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials have said the goal is to push Iran toward new diplomatic negotiations that reach far beyond the limited scope of the Obama-era nuclear deal, to address Tehran’s U.N. Security Council violating ballistic missile activities, as well as its backing of militant proxies that foment unrest around the Middle East.

The current uprising and demonstrations began on Nov. 15 after the Iranian government had abruptly imposed a 300 percent increase in fuel prices around the nation. The protests soon morphed into a nationwide anti-regime movement.

While Reuters and other international news outlets have described the uprising as the bloodiest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran, many Iran analysts caution against the notion that the Iranian government remains strong and is likely to collapse any time soon.

Mr. Hook’s comments about the death toll of protesters, meanwhile, was notably higher than numbers circulated by international human rights groups. Amnesty International has said this week that it has documented the deaths of at least 208 protesters.

Iran’s government acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that its security forces had shot and killed protesters in several cities to crush the demonstrations last month. But authorities in Tehran have given no official death toll.

Mr. Hook told reporters at the State Department that: “The United States calls for the immediate release of all protesters detained and imprisoned, as well as all political prisoners currently held by the regime.”

“Now is the time for all nations to stand with the Iranian people, diplomatically isolate the regime and sanction those officials who are responsible for murdering innocent Iranians,” he said.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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