- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The State Department on Wednesday condemned the use of violence to crush ongoing protests in Iran, breaking the Biden administration’s silence over a widening uprising against the Tehran government that has been unfolding this week in several cities across the country.

“The Iranian people have a right to voice their frustrations and hold their government accountable, but we have seen disturbing reports that security forces fired on protesters, resulting in multiple deaths,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “We condemn the use of violence against peaceful protestors.”

The statement came after multiple news reports that security forces had fired on protesters engaged in a demonstration last week over severe water shortages in southwest Khuzestan province.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement on July 22 noting reports of three protesters being killed and asserting that “Iranian authorities appear to have used excessive force against demonstrators in southwestern Iran protesting lack of access to water.”

Iranian authorities have sharply denied the reports, but an umbrella group of Iranian exile dissident groups charged the protests are more extensive and violent than the regime has admitted.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran, citing its sources inside the country, claimed protests had broken out in the capital and dozens of Iranian cities, with at least 12 demonstrators killed by police and scores of arrests in Khuzestan and elsewhere.

The State Department stopped short Wednesday of specifically blaming the Iranian regime for shooting at demonstrators. But Mr. Price said U.S. officials “urge the Iranian government to allow its citizens to exercise their right to freedom of expression and to freely access information, including via the internet.”

Protests in Iran began with a water shortage — owing to drought and what critics say was official mismanagement — in the Khuzestan province and have now spread to numerous cities including Tehran, Karaj and Tabriz.

The Associated Press reported that dozens of Iranians had marched down a major street in Tehran on Monday. The news agency cited online videos of the demonstration, showing protesters marching down Jomhuri Islami Avenue — or “Islamic Republic Avenue” in Farsi — and calling on police to support them.

The demonstrators later dispersed peacefully. Security forces have maintained a heavier-than-normal presence recently in Tehran.

The Iranian regime’s semi-official Fars News Agency later reported the demonstrations, but blamed them on a power outage at a nearby shopping center.

Mr. Price’s statement on Wednesday said the “Iranian people are now putting a spotlight not only on their unmet needs, but also their unfulfilled aspirations for respect for human rights — rights to which individuals the world over are entitled.”

The developments come as the Biden administration pursues “indirect” talks with Iran on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal that former President Donald Trump repudiated in 2018. Iran is demanding the U.S. drop harsh economic sanctions Mr. Trump reimposed in quitting the deal.

Months of talks toward such a restoration have yet to produce a deal, even as hard-liner President-elect Ebrahim Raisi is due to be sworn in as president in Tehran next week. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday called Washington “stubborn” for seeking to raise the issue of Tehran’s missiles and regional influence during talks with other nations that were party to the nuclear deal.

• This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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