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Iran's Official Death Toll From Protests Should Be 'Treated Skeptically'

Newsweek 11/29/2022 Jack Dutton
A protest was held in Turkey against Iran, and Iranians living in Turkey participated in the protest on November 26, 2022 in İstanbul, Türkiye. After the suspicious death of Mahsa Amini, Iranian protests began to be held in many parts of the world. © Hakan Akgun/Getty/dia images A protest was held in Turkey against Iran, and Iranians living in Turkey participated in the protest on November 26, 2022 in İstanbul, Türkiye. After the suspicious death of Mahsa Amini, Iranian protests began to be held in many parts of the world.

Iran's official death toll from the anti-government protests that erupted after the death of a woman in police custody in September is now more than 300 people. However, one expert believes this number should be "treated skeptically" and is actually likely to be much higher.

Demonstrations spread across the Islamic Republic in September after 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian Mahsa Amin died in police custody, three days after her arrest for allegedly breaching Iran's dress code for women. Tehran deployed state security forces to crack down on the protesters, leading to violent clashes spreading across the Middle Eastern country.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards General Amirali Hajizadeh made the announcement about the death toll from the protests on Tuesday.

"Everyone in the country has been affected by the death of this lady," Hajizadeh said, according to AFP.

Jason Brodsky, policy director at bi-partisan, non-profit United Against Nuclear Iran, told Newsweek: "Iranian official statistics during protest cycles should be treated skeptically. The 300+ figure is less than estimates by human rights organizations."

"For example, Human Rights Activists News Agency yesterday reported 451 deaths. During the 2019 protests, Reuters reported the death toll was as high as around 1,500, which Iranian officials dismissed. So they have a history of purposely lowballing," he added.

Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi, senior research fellow for Middle East security at the Royal United Services Institute, said that it was hard to know the exact number of people killed.

The numbers vary depending on the source. Oslo-based NGO Iran Human Rights estimates that at least 416 people have been killed in the suppression of the protests.

Iran plans to reject a newly-appointed U.N. investigation into the country's repression of the protesters, the foreign ministry said on Monday. The U.N. Human Rights Council voted Thursday to carry out the probe.

"Iran will have no cooperation with the political committee formed by the U.N. Rights Council," Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said.

Tabrizi said that the protests are likely to continue "for a while."

"Two months and a half in neither side is ready or willing to give in," he said. "People are still demonstrating despite the crackdown and pressure exerted, and the regime is not providing any concession or response to those protesting. It is hard to predict how long this could keep going but something has to change on either side for the stalemate to end."

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Brodsky noted that, so far, there haven't been any "high-level political defections, fissures in the security and armed services, or a mass convergence of labor and political protests," meaning that he does believe there is an immediate threat to the Iranian regime.

"But the long-term trend lines are very damaging for Iran's regime and the demonstrations have become more violent. There has been a fear factor that has been lost, and it's very difficult for the Islamic Republic to put that genie back in the bottle," he added.

The analyst said that the longer the demonstrations last, the more detrimental they will be for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's government.

"It produces a vicious cycle where the more deaths of Iranians at the hands of the regime produces more protests and thereafter more martyrdom. So the situation can spin quickly out of control for the Iranian system. We're not at that point yet, but the longer this goes on, the greater the danger for the regime."

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