Rights group says Iran protest death toll tops 75 as crackdown intensifies

  • Over 75 people have been killed during 11 days of unrest in Iran. 
  • Protests were sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for breaching laws on hijab use and modest clothing. 
  • By Monday, officials had arrested over 1 200 people. 

More than 75 people have died in Iran’s crackdown on 11 nights of unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a rights group said, as Western nations pile pressure on the Islamic republic to end the violence.

The Iranian authorities’ official death toll has remained at 41 since Saturday, including several members of the security forces, as the country is rocked by its biggest wave of protests in almost three years.

Demonstrators took to the streets again on Monday night – as they have every night since Amini’s death on September 16 following her arrest for allegedly breaching the country’s strict rules on hijab headscarves and modest clothing – witnesses told AFP.

In Sanandaj, the capital of Amini’s western home province of Kurdistan, women climbed onto the roofs of cars to tear off their headscarves in front of cheering crowds, images published by Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR) showed, with police nowhere to be seen.

Tehran crowds have shouted “death to the dictator”, calling for the end of the more than three-decade rule of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 83.

READ | Blast rocks oil refinery in Iran’s southwest – state media

Video shot from several floors above street level, purportedly in the city of Tabriz, showed people protesting to the sound of tear gas canisters being fired by security forces.

IHR said at least 76 people have been killed in the crackdown that has seen sweeping restrictions imposed on the internet, including blocks on Instagram and WhatsApp.

Officials said by Monday they had made more than 1 200 arrests. Those taken into custody have included activists, lawyers and journalists as well as protesters.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was “very concerned by the continued violent response by security forces to protests in Iran”.

It was “extremely concerned by comments by some leaders vilifying protesters, and by the apparent unnecessary and disproportionate use of force against protesters,” spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told a Tuesday briefing.

Tensions with the west

Tensions with Western powers grew as France on Monday issued its “strongest condemnation” over the “violent repression” by security forces, Germany summoned the Iranian ambassador and Canada announced sanctions.

A day earlier, the European Union had deplored the crackdown and Tehran said it had called in the British and Norwegian envoys.

“We call on the international community to decisively and unitedly take practical steps to stop the killing and torture of protesters,” said IHR’s director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam.

Video footage and death certificates obtained by IHR showed that “live ammunition is being directly fired at protesters,” he charged.

Riot police in black body armour have beaten protesters with truncheons in running street battles, and students have torn down large pictures of the supreme leader and his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in recent video footage published by AFP.

At least 20 journalists have been arrested, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

‘Demands of the people’

The Iranian judiciary chief, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, has stressed “the need for decisive action without leniency” against the protest instigators.

But a powerful Shiite cleric long aligned with the country’s ultra-conservative establishment has urged authorities to take a softer line.

“The leaders must listen to the demands of the people, resolve their problems and show sensitivity to their rights,” said Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani.

The bloody crackdown has drawn condemnation from Western government, clouding diplomatic efforts to revive a nuclear deal between Iran and major powers that was abandoned by then US president Donald Trump in 2018.

The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who has led those efforts, on Sunday slammed Iran for its “widespread and disproportionate use of force against nonviolent protesters”.

The United States last week imposed sanctions against the Iranian morality police, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday that his own country would follow suit as part of a sanctions package “on dozens of individuals and entities”.

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