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Source: ABC News

Feb 1, 2023

BySarah Baniak, Somayeh Malekian, Davi Merchan, Bobby Gehlen, Seiji Yamashita, and Ivan Pereira

Iranian officials have used violence to intimidate protesters, watchdog says.

Iranians protesting their country's regime have been putting their lives on the line to call out injustices and, even in the face of violence, say they will continue to raise their voices.

Saman, who fled the country after losing an eye due to a paintball gun when he was shot during protests, shared his story with ABC News and said that many are fed up with the oppressive show of force by the Iranian government in the last few months.

"Every protester who goes to the rallies in the street knows that he could be killed by a bullet…and even his body could go missing…but still everybody attends the protests just with this hope in their heart that they could send the Islamic Republic out of our country," Saman, who asked ABC News to use only his first name for his protection, said.

Saman, an Iranian who lost his eye during a protest in Iran, speaks with ABC News Live.

And as the demonstrations continue across the world, human rights groups and others who have survived the Iranian government's violence fear that things could get more bloody and called on more nations to act.

The recent protests began in the fall following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who was in the custody of the morality police after she was arrested for not properly wearing a hijab.

The protesters have filled the streets of Iran shouting her name and calling out the Iranian regime's authoritarian rules.

"The state did not expect that protests over the death of a woman from the Kurdish minority would spread into the whole country," Roya Boroumand, the director of Abdul-Rahman Berman, Center for Human Rights in Iran, told ABC News.

In this Oct. 1, 2022, file photo, Iranian protesters set their scarves on fire while marching down a street in Tehran, Iran.

Contributor via Getty Images, FILE

However, the government has responded with extreme violence and, in some cases, executing protesters in public.

Boroumand's group has been tracking the number of executions and arrests in Iran and estimates that more than 519 people were killed last year. By comparison, 317 killings took place in 2021, she said.

Boroumand added that protesters who are arrested are subject to beatings, torture and even rape by the authorities.

Roya Boroumand the director of Abdul-Rahman Berman, Center for Human Rights in Iran speaks to ABC News.

"We don't know how much of this is an attempt of the state to deter women from coming out or to encourage families to prevent their children to come out," she said.

Boroumand said that families of the detained protesters who were killed in custody are being blackmailed into admitting their loved ones killed security force members in exchange for their bodies. She noted that the authorities are using gymnasiums to house detainees because of the lack of space in jails.

Boroumand said another tactic used by Iranian police is to target people's faces with pellets, which could result in them losing their eyesight.

Saman told ABC News that he was a victim of this tactic. He said that an Iranian officer shot him in the eye with the paintball gun while he was attending a protest in Valiasr Square in September 2022. Saman was hospitalized and lost his left eye.

People, carrying banners and flags, stage a demonstration in solidarity with protestors in Iran, which was triggered by the Sept. 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody, on Jan. 21, 2023, at Farragut Square, in Washington, D.C. Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

While recuperating in the hospital, Saman said he found out that the police were looking for his hospital room number.

"Fortunately I was in the examination room and, with my friend’s help, I managed to get myself to the hospital's yard and escaped," he said. "By leaving the country, I decided to make my face living evidence for the world to see the Islamic Republic of Iran's crimes closely."

Boroumand and other human rights groups have called on world leaders to do more to stop the Iranian government from executing and intimidating its citizens.

The Biden administration has placed sanctions on Iranian officials. "The United States continues to support the people of Iran in the face of this brutal repression, and we are rallying growing international consensus to hold the regime accountable,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in December.

In this Oct. 1, 2022, file photo, Iranian protesters march down a street in Tehran, Iran.

Contributor via Getty Images, FILE

In the meantime, experts say the Iranian protesters will continue to raise their voices against the oppression.

"We are all human, regardless of our religion and our nationality," Saman said. "We could not be silent against the oppression."

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