‘Distorting the truth’: Number of protesters killed in Iran higher than state TV figures, Amnesty warns

Over 1,200 protesters are estimated to have been arrested in the largest demonstrations to descend on Iran’s streets in nearly three years (AFP via Getty Images)
Over 1,200 protesters are estimated to have been arrested in the largest demonstrations to descend on Iran’s streets in nearly three years (AFP via Getty Images)

The number of protesters being killed in Iran is higher than state TV figures claim, with the Iranian authorities exhibiting a “pattern of distorting the truth” to conceal human rights abuses, Amnesty International has warned.

Iran has been rocked by 11 days of protests, which erupted after Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody in mid-September. The 22-year-old Kurdish woman died after being detained by the morality police for allegedly infringing Iran’s stringent rules on hijabs.

Women’s rights are profoundly restricted in Iran and wearing a headscarf is compulsory in public for all women, with those who do not wear a hijab, or have some of their hair on display while wearing a hijab, facing punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment.

Mansoureh Mills, a researcher at leading human rights organisation Amnesty International, told The Independent the true numbers of protesters who have recently been killed in Iran is higher than the numbers officially released

It comes after state television stated on Saturday that at least 41 people have been killed during protests, noting the death toll was based on its own tally, with official figures yet to be published. This death count predominantly consists of demonstrators but also includes security force officials.

Ms Mills, who specialises in Iran, said: “Amnesty International has recorded at least 30 people being killed, four of them children, but we believe the real number is higher, given the horrific level of violence being perpetrated by the security forces.

“The Iranian authorities have a pattern of distorting the truth to cover up their human rights violations. Following the November 2019 protests, during which security forces killed hundreds of men, women and children, the authorities consistently denied any responsibility.

“They continued to cover up the real death toll of people killed during the November 2019 protests, and publicly praised security and intelligence forces for their role in the crackdown.”

The campaigner warned women and girls in Iran are being forced to endure “harassment, violence and arbitrary arrest” for taking off their headscarves in the protests.

“We have also received reports of women’s rights defenders being arrested while protesting for women’s rights over the past week,” Ms Mills added. “This is something that we are investigating.”

When “political unrest” and major demonstrations erupt, the Iranian authorities “arbitrarily arrest journalists, political activists and human rights defenders to silence any form of public dissent or reporting and criticism of the human rights violations they are committing”, she said.

Ms Mills called for the Iranian authorities to “urgently repeal laws and regulations that impose compulsory veiling on women and girls, perpetuate violence against them and strip them of their right to dignity and bodily autonomy”.

The campaigner argued the so-called morality police “which enforces these abusive and discriminatory laws” needs to be scrapped.

“The policing of women’s bodies and lives in Iran is not restricted to their clothing choices,” Ms Mills added. “However, it is the most visible and one of the most egregious forms of the wider oppression of women and it stokes violence against them on a daily basis.”

The protests have swept across at least 46 cities, towns and villages in Iran - with women waving their hijabs and hurling them in bonfires and chopping off their hair at the forefront of protests.

Over 1,200 protesters are estimated to have been arrested in the largest demonstrations to descend on Iran’s streets in nearly three years. Crowds have demanded Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is ousted as well as shouting “Woman, Life, Freedom!”.

Rothna Begum, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights Division, who specialises in the Middle East and North Africa, told The Independent: “The true numbers of people are killed are likely to be higher than what state media are reporting but even official numbers are far too high for deaths during what are largely peaceful protests.

“The authorities must refrain from excessive use of force and investigate all deaths that have taken place during the protests.”