'Iran’s Hidden Slaughter': a video investigation

In the photo of the left, an Iranian police officer shoots at someone. In the video on the right, protesters throw stones.
In the photo of the left, an Iranian police officer shoots at someone. In the video on the right, protesters throw stones.

Between November 15 and 18, 2019, hundreds of people were killed in Iran when the government cracked down on protests that had been sparked by a hike in petrol prices. The government shut down phone lines and internet access, but hundreds of videos emerged showing uniformed soldiers and police shooting unarmed civilians. The Observers team reviewed more than 750 amateur videos and photos, focusing on the images that showed gunshots and injuries.

UPDATE 23/12/2020: We are pleased to announce that our journalist Ershad Alijani was awarded the 2020 French Diplomatic Press Association Prize for this report. He dedicated the prize to "the brave Iranian citizens who risked their lives to document what was going on."

As the protests spread to cities across the country on November 16, the government put in place what the monitoring group NetBlocks called “a near-total national Internet shutdown.”

One man who had joined the protests in Shahriar, a working-class suburb of Tehran, told the Observers: “I took lots of photos and videos, but the Internet was shut down so I couldn’t share them online. In the end I had to erase them because the police were stopping people in the street and checking their cellphones.”

Despite the government’s efforts, hundreds of video and photos circulated widely during and after the internet shutdown, especially on Telegram, the messaging app popular in Iran.

“As always on social networks, the images were circulating with little or no information,” said Ershad Alijani, editor of the Observers site in Persian. “People didn’t know where or when they were taken.”



This framegrab from an amateur video (above) shows the moment a heavy machine gun on a pickup fires into a marsh in Chamran, Iran on Nov. 18, 2019.



This image (above) shows the location of the pickup, of the camera that filmed, and the marsh. According to a Dec. 1 report by the New York Times, troops from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fired on protesters who had sought refuge in the marsh Nov. 18, killing 40 to 100 people.

The Observers team focused on four cities and towns: Shahriar, near Tehran; Sadra, near Shiraz; Marivan in the West; and Mahshahr on the Persian Gulf. Using geolocalisation techniques cross-referenced with firsthand accounts from inside Iran, the Observers identified the exact location – to within five metres – of three dozen videos showing uniformed men shooting, and civilians being injured and killed.

Amnesty International has documented at least 304 deaths during the protests according to their latest report released on December 16. On December 23, Reuters said that about 1,500 people were killed in the space of two weeks - a number they said was given to them by high-ranking Iranian officials.

Watch the 15-minute report: