Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Iranian security forces have killed more than 100 protesters amid a government crackdown on demonstrations that erupted nationwide last week over a hike in fuel prices, according to an international human rights organization.
In a statement Tuesday, Amnesty International said at least 106 protesters have been killed in 21 cities by the government's use of "excessive and lethal force to crush largely peaceful protests" that began Friday after the government tripled the cost of gasoline and cut fuel subsidies for the poor.
The organization said its fears the real death toll could be as high as 200.
Amnesty's report comes as the United Nations said it was "deeply concerned" that live ammunition has been used to quell the protests resulting in "a significant number of deaths across the country."
Theses reports stand in stark contrast to the dozen deaths including those of security forces reported by Iranian officials.
The United Nations said Tuesday that it has been extremely difficult to verify the death toll, but that Iranian media and other sources suggest it is in the dozens with over 1,000 protesters arrested.
"We urge the Iranian authorities and security forces to avoid the use of force to disperse peaceful assemblies and in cases in which an assembly is violent to restrict the use of force to the greatest extent possible, especially actions that are likely to cause serious injury or loss of life," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Iran's fuel price hike comes more than a year after President Donald Trump pulled out of a multination nuclear pact with Tehran and imposed sweeping sanctions against the Middle Eastern country that have since crippled its economy.
Iran said the 300 percent fuel hike was aimed at creating "social justice" but it instead has sparked large-scale unrest.
"The authorities must end this brutal and deadly crackdown immediately and show respect for human life," said Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa's Research and Advocacy Director Philip Luther. "The frequency and persistence of lethal force used against peaceful protesters in these and previous mass protests, as well as the systematic impunity for security forces who kill protesters raise serious fears that the intentional lethal use of firearms to crush protests has become a matter of state policy."
The reports follow U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday condemning the state's violence committed against the Iranian people.
"The Islamic Republic must cease violence against its own people and should immediately restore the ability of all Iranians to access a free and open Internet," Pompeo told reporters. "The world is watching."