Iran’s official death toll from protests should be “treated with skepticism”.

The official death toll in Iran in anti-government protests that broke out after the death of a woman in police custody in September now stands at more than 300 people. However, one expert believes that number should be “taken with skepticism” and may actually be much higher.

In September, demonstrations spread across the Islamic Republic after 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian Mahsa Amin died in police custody three days after her arrest for allegedly violating Iran’s dress code for women. Tehran deployed state security forces to crack down on the protesters, prompting violent clashes that spread across the Middle East country.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards General Amirali Hajizadeh announced the death toll in the protests on Tuesday.

“Everyone in the country is affected by the death of this woman,” Hajizadeh said, according to AFP.

Jason Brodsky, political director of the non-partisan non-profit organization United Against Nuclear Iran, said News Week: “Official Iranian statistics during protest cycles should be viewed with skepticism. The figure of 300+ is lower than estimates by human rights organizations.”

“For example, the Human Rights Activists News Agency reported 451 deaths yesterday. During the 2019 protests, Reuters reported that the death toll was around 1,500, which Iranian officials dismissed. So you have a history of deliberate perfidy,” he added.

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

Numbers vary by source. Oslo-based NGO Iran Human Rights estimates at least 416 people have been killed in the quelling of the protests.

Iran plans to dismiss a newly established UN probe into the country’s crackdown on the protesters, the State Department said on Monday. The UN Human Rights Council voted Thursday to conduct the inquiry.

“Iran will not cooperate with the political committee formed by the UN Judicial Council,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said.

Tabrizi said the protests are likely to continue “for a while”.

“Two and a half months, neither side is ready or willing to back down,” he said. “Despite the crackdown and pressure, people are still demonstrating and the regime is not offering any concessions or answers to the protesters. It’s hard to predict how long this could go on, but something needs to change on both sides for the standoff to end.”

Mahsa Amini protests
A protest against Iran was held in Turkey and Iranians living in Turkey attended the protest on November 26, 2022 in Istanbul, Türkiye. Iranian protests began in many parts of the world following the suspicious death of Mahsa Amini.
Hakan Akgun/Getty/slide images

Brodsky noted that so far there have been no “senior political defectors, rifts in the security and military services, or a mass convergence of labor and political protests,” meaning he believes there is an imminent threat to the Iranian regime.

“But the long-term trend lines are very damaging to the Iranian regime and the demonstrations have become more violent. A fear factor has been lost and it is very difficult for the Islamic Republic to put that genie back in the bottle. ” he added.

The analyst said the longer the demonstrations go on, the more damaging they are to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s government.

“It creates a vicious circle where the more deaths of Iranians at the hands of the regime, leads to more protests and then more martyrs. Therefore, the situation for the Iranian system can quickly spiral out of control. We’re not there yet, but the longer this goes on, the greater the danger to the regime.” Iran’s official death toll from protests should be “treated with skepticism”.

Rick Schindler

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