The nationwide Iran protests in mid-November shook the Iranian regime. In order to avoid its immediate downfall, the regime resorted to brutal repression. According to the main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, Mujahedin-e Khalq or MEK), the regime’s security forces killed at least 1,500 people. The MEK put the number of wounded at 4,000. It said some 12,000 protesters were detained.
Yet the regime has been mum regarding the number of martyrs to the protests.
The MEK’s figures were announced after prudent and hard work by the MEK’s network inside Iran. Establishing the exact scope of the regime’s brutally and the exact number of victims has been a daunting task. The MEK has long relied on its vast network of activists to meticulously and painstakingly compile data from all over the country. But its latest task was made more challenging by the regime’s concerted efforts to conceal the real scope of the uprising and the atrocities it committed.
Since the beginning of #IranProtests, the #MEK, based on its extensive network inside #Iran, has released statistics, names, and images of many martyrs. These actions broke the wall of censorship, which the regime was trying to build. #FreeAllProtesters #Internet4Iran pic.twitter.com/EQXAb9WUpn
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) December 30, 2019
In order to achieve its objective, the regime brought down the internet in the country for almost a week. Yet the MEK’s activists took great risks in overcoming such obstacles and obtaining information from inside the regime. That information included continually updated details about the victims, often accompanied by their pictures. As of January 1, more than 620 victims had been identified.
On November 19, the NCRI reported “More than 200 protesters have been killed during the Iranian people’s nationwide uprising. Thousands have been wounded.”
More than 200 #protesters have been killed during the Iranian people’s nationwide uprising. Thousands have been wounded. On Nov17, 2019, #IRGC said 1,000 had been arrested, though the actual number is much higher.#IranProtests
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) November 19, 2019
Four days later as more information became available the Iranian resistance put the casualty figure at over 300.
On November 26 the MEK announced that the number of casualties had surpassed 450, while the unrest had engulfed 176 cities.
On December 4, the National Council of Resistance of Iran announced that according to the MEK, “The number of those killed in the protests that swept across 189 cities has risen to above 1,000.”
The following day in a briefing, Brian Hook, the U.S. Special Representative for Iran said the regime’s security forces may have killed more than 1000 people during the November uprising.
On December 15, the MEK, “confirmed that over 1,500 protesters have been killed during the Iranian people’s nationwide uprising in different provinces across the country. At least 400 have been killed in Tehran, 320 in Kermanshah, 270 in Fars, 240 in Khuzestan, 120 in Isfahan, and 100 in Alborz (Karaj).”
On December 23, Reuters cited sources within the regime that confirmed 1,500 people had been killed during the protests.
The Reuters report was met with the regime’s outrage. Iranian state media was riddled with stories denying the figure for several days. They pointed out that the source of the figures contained in the report was the MEK.
On December 24, the state-run Jamaran news-agency wrote, “Reuters published a special report about the death toll during the November incidents and claimed 1,500 people have lost their lives. The interesting fact is that the Reuters’ source is the Mujahedin-e Khalq [MEK] grouplet.”
The state-run Alef news agency, which is close to the regime’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, reflected the regime’s fear and anxiety about the MEK’s role in exposing the regime’s crimes. On December 24 it wrote:
“Following the recent uprisings, the MEK, with years of experience in lying, immediately announced the death toll. The number of those killed was initially small and gradually increased …. The MEK, through the National Council of Resistance, in early December in the Statement No-43 claimed there were over 750 casualties. A day later, they claimed the death toll had reached 1,000. A week later, Brian Hook, the US State Department’s special envoy for Iran, confirmed the MEK’s claim that more than 1,000 people had been killed by regime forces in Iran! In his remarks, he repeated the same ridiculous narrative of the MEK about the security forces demanding money from the [martyrs’] families for the bullets they shot at their loved-ones.”
“December 15, the National Council of Resistance issued Declaration No. 55, and announced that the death toll has reached 1,500. Surprisingly, this statistic has now been reintroduced in the Reuters controversial report,” the regime’s website added.
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) December 15, 2019
The regime has rejected the number of 1,500 martyrs. Yet, a key question lingers: Why has it not given its own estimates, more than six weeks after the uprising?
Having failed at concealing the number of deaths and the extent of its brutality, the regime tries to either downplay its mass murder or to shift the blame to other parties.
In remarks broadcast on state radio and television and published by the official news agency IRNA, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary for the regime’s Supreme National Security Council, claimed: “More than 85 percent of those who lost their lives in the recent incidents in cities in Tehran Province did not participate in any of the protest gatherings and were killed under suspicious circumstances with firearms and other weapons not issued by the [security] forces. Thus, the opposition [groups’] project of piling on casualties in this region is certain.”
This only underscores the regime’s commitment to distraction rather than clarity. After all, Shamkhani left a very basic question unresolved: 85 percent of what total?
The regime is unable to announce a much lower number than that which has been provided by the MEK. But it is also unable to acknowledge anything approaching the reality of the situation, lest the dimensions of its crimes be revealed, and the regime made to face the consequences.
This is only the latest example of the larger strategic impasse the regime has been facing. In the struggle to keep hold on its power, the regime has no option other than to remain committed to the worst of its malign behaviors while trying in vain to deny responsibility. And because nothing – not even the complete severance of internet access – can entirely halt the flow of accurate information, the regime’s actions only serve to encourage more of the domestic revolt and foreign scrutiny that are bringing it to the brink of overthrow.
#IranProtests – Resistance’s Leadership Messages in Tehran: Khamenei, Rouhani Must Face Justice for Crime Against Humanity https://t.co/ghy2pful2Q#Internet4Iran #FreeAllProtesters @Maryam_Rajavi @Masoud_Rajavi
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) December 31, 2019