WASHINGTON -- The United States says it is “deeply concerned” by reports that Iranian authorities have imprisoned “thousands” of citizens for participating in the antigovernment street protests that have rocked dozens of cities and town.
The White House on January 10 said it found “even more disturbing” reports that some of the demonstrators were tortured or killed.
“We will not remain silent as the Iranian dictatorship represses the basic rights of its citizens and will hold Iran’s leaders accountable for any violations,” a statement said.
It called for “the immediate release of all political prisoners in Iran, including the victims of the most recent crackdown.”
More than 90 cities and towns were hit by antigovernment protests after a December 28 demonstration in Mashhad, the country's second-largest city, over rising prices and other grievances.
At least 22 people have reportedly been killed in the unrest, which targeted government policies but also Iran's clerically dominated system.
An Iranian lawmaker said on January 9 that about 3,700 people have been arrested during the antigovernment protests. The number cited by reformist lawmaker Mahmud Sadeghi is far higher than figures announced by the authorities.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran said it had documented the deaths of three arrested protesters, the Associated Press reported on January 9.
One died at Tehran's Evin prison in what Iranian authorities said was a suicide. Another man detained in Arak, 235 kilometers southwest of the capital, also died, the center said. His family said their son's body bore an enormous head wound "as if he had been hit with an ax," the center said.
Iran's judiciary acknowledged a death in Arak via its Mizan news agency, saying an unnamed detainee committed suicide.
The center alleges a third detainee died in custody in Dezful, 460 kilometers southwest of Tehran. This death had not been reported before.
The condemnation from the White House comes after the House of Representatives nearly unanimously adopted a resolution expressing support for “the people of Iran that are engaged in legitimate and peaceful protests against an oppressive, corrupt regime."
The resolution, backed by a vote of 415-to-2 late on January 9, also condemned the government's "serious human rights abuses against the Iranian people" and called on the U.S. administration to issue new sanctions punishing human rights violators in Iran.
"U.S. sanctions target the oppressive, destabilizing regime, not the people of Iran," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce said.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi on January 10 "strongly condemned" what he called the “hostile” resolution.
U.S. President Donald Trump has praised what he called the courage of the Iranian demonstrators and said that the United States would support them “at the appropriate time.”
On January 9, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeated accusations -- rejected by the United States and other governments -- that foreign countries including the United States and its allies were behind the protests.
“Once again, the nation tells the U.S., Britain, and those who seek to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran from abroad that ‘you’ve failed, and you will fail in the future, too’,” Khamenei said in a message on his official Twitter account.
Khamenei said that some of the calls being made by the demonstrators were “honest and rightful demands.” He did not elaborate.