Washington (MEE) – The White House on Wednesday demanded that Iran release people its security forces rounded up during countrywide protests, increasing pressure on Tehran as US President Donald Trump weighs the future of a key nuclear deal.

“The Trump Administration is deeply concerned by reports that the Iranian regime has imprisoned thousands of ‎Iranian citizens in the past week for engaging in peaceful protests,” the White House said in a statement.

donald trump saudi arabia iranian protesters
Image Credit: Flickr – CC – Boaz Guttman

It added that reports of some protesters being “tortured or killed… while in detention are even more disturbing”, and denounced what it called Tehran’s “true brutal nature”.

“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,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

“The United States calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Iran, including the victims of the most recent crackdown,” the statement read.

Violent unrest fuelled by economic grievances erupted in dozens of Iranian cities between 28 December and early January, leaving at least 22 people dead.

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Various figures have come from official sources in Iran about the number of people arrested, with reformist lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi putting the total at 3,700.

Officials have said a majority of those jailed have since been released, with only the main “instigators” facing trial.

An investigation has been opened into the death in custody of a young Iranian in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison, the country’s judiciary said Tuesday, with Sadeghi linking the death to the recent protests.

Trump is expected on Friday to waive a series of sanctions against Iran as part of a deal to curb the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme.

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According to an AP report, Trump may relieve nuclear-related sanctions in conjunction with placing new sanctions on the country’s ballistic missile programme. Citing six officials who wish to remain anonymous, AP reported that the new sanctions are aimed to “test Tehran’s willingness to abide its side of the bargain”.

“Such a balance could satisfy Trump’s demand to raise pressure on Iran, while not embarking on a frontal assault on the most central trade-offs of the nuclear agreement,” it read.

This post was originally written for and published by Middle East Eye.