A video of a dramatic and fatal police chase in Iran sparked outrage after it was shared online in early June. The video shows the police chasing Iranian smugglers, known as 'shooti'. One of the human traffickers' cars, filled with migrants, catches fire, killing three Afghan migrants and injuring eight more. This is not the first incident of its kind demonstrating Iranian security forces’ violence against Afghan migrants.
On June 3, two videos showing a burning car with dead bodies inside and survivors on the road nearby were shared on social media in Iran. The caption reads, "Iranian police shot at a car, full of Afghan 'illegal' migrants and the car caught fire. Many of them died inside."
The FRANCE 24 Observers team has decided not to publish the videos in their entirety. The images in this article are blurred screen captures from the videos.
A Peugeot 405 burns on a road to Yazd, east of IranI. Parts of a dead body are recognisable in the boot of the car. Screengrab blurred by France 24 Observers.
In the two videos, a Peugeot 405 is on fire, and you can make out the bodies of some of the victims in the boot of the car.
Survivors stand on the side of the road, shocked and injured. One of them is running and crying, while another begs for water. In one of the videos, a voice in the background says, "Police shot at the car, the car caught fire and the police car just kept going."
Two Afgan victims in the video. One of them appears severely injured, crying and asking for water. The man filming asks them to sit and can be heard saying, “I’ll bring water.”
Iranian bootleggers, or 'shooti', smuggle everything from contraband clothes to alcohol and migrants into Iran from the border with Afghanistan in the east of the country.
These smugglers drive as fast as 200 km per hour and pack over a dozen migrants into small cars, squeezing them into the boot if necessary. They drive as fast as they can to escape the police – a method that sometimes ends with the police shooting at the vehicle. This kind of incident involving smugglers transporting Afghan migrants is not unusual in Iran: Similar incidents happened in 2015 and 2016. But this is the first time the death toll has been so high.
>> READ MORE: Iran's 'Fast and Furious' smugglers: Duelling with police at 200 kph
Another victim of the incident, who appears in pain, next to the highway.
Iranian police confirmed the incident, saying they “fired at the car’s tyres”
On 5 June, Iranian police published a press release and confirmed the incident.
The press release says the incident happened on June 3 on the road between Mehriz and Yazd in eastern Iran.
Iranian police claimed that they noticed four shootis at a checkpoint and stopped three of them, but the fourth car refused to stop. According to the Iranian police, after a car chase that went on for several kilometres and police officers firing warning shots, they finally shot at the car’s tyres. The car still did not stop, and after eight kilometres of driving with flat tyres, the car caught fire and only stopped when it hit the barriers on the edge of the road.
The police said there were 14 migrants in the car, including at least one Pakistani person, which means that three other migrants and the driver are unaccounted for and wanted by the police.
The car on fire on a highway in eastern Iran. According to the Iranian police, 14 Afghan migrants were inside. Screengrab of the video blurred by France 24.
Kabul asks for an investigation
Many Afghans shared the video of the incident on TikTok to show their anger. On June 7, members of an Afghan political party went on strike in front of Iran’s embassy in Kabul, throwing red paint over the building in protest.
On June 5, Iranian state TV broadcast images of Abdul Ghafoor Liwal, Afghanistan's ambassador to Iran, visiting the survivors in the hospital in Yazd.
Many Aghans have expressed their anger on Tiktok with the hashtag “bring me some water”, a phrase uttered by one of the victims in a video of the incident.
One of the victims said "We saw that the car was on fire, and we begged the driver to stop but he didn't." In an interview with Iranian state TV Ghafoor Liwal said, "It is my belief that the human traffickers are responsible for this incident."
However Kabul has ordered its diplomatic mission in Iran to investigate the incident. Many Afghan MPs are calling on Iran to "use less lethal methods with Afghan migrants".
This incident happened only a month after another deadly showdown between Iranian police and Afghans. On
May 1, Iranian border guards forced 57 Afghan migrant workers into a river on the Iran-Afghan border.
Afghanistan says only 12 survived. Iran denies the allegations.
>> READ MORE: Investigation: videos reveal location of mass drowning on Iran-Afghan border