Nearly 500 Iranian protesters have died since mid-September after hundreds of thousands of people across the country took to the streets to condemn the death of Mahsa Amini (22) while in the custody of the morality police for failing to cover her hair.
Of the 488 identified fatalities 60 were children and 29 women, Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) has reported. The largest number of fatalities has been in the insurgent Balouch-majority Sistan-Balouchistan province, where 128 have died.
Over the last week 16 people have died, a dozen of whom were in the Kurdistan province, IHR said.
The numbers only include cases verified by the organisation.
Commenting on the Iranian foreign ministry’s refusal to deal with the UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding team established last week, IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said the “authorities know full well that if they co-operate [with the mission] an even wider scale of their crimes will be revealed”.
The mission has been charged with identifying perpetrators of crimes and providing evidence to tribunals.
Indicating a change of policy, brigadier general Amirali Hajizadeh has admitted for the first time to the semi-official Mehr news agency: “I don’t have the latest figures, but I think we have had perhaps more than 300 martyrs [security personnel] and people [protesters] killed.”
UN-appointed Iranian affairs adviser Javaid Rehman told Reuters that 21 protesters – six last month – have been sentenced to death. Among them is popular Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi who was indicted for “corruption on earth for publication of lies on a large scale”.
New York City’s Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has said that despite the harsh measures adopted by the authorities against the protests, “oil workers, truckers, public transportation workers and factory workers are joining other labour groups now waging strikes across the country”.
“These workers are the backbone of the Iranian economy,” said CHRI director Hadi Ghaemi. “The fact that so many workers are striking even while labour leaders are among the thousands who’ve been arrested since September speaks to the level of discontent against the government.”
The strikers, who have been primarily motivated by non-payment of wages, have taken up the cause and slogans of the protesters. They have called for Iran to be expelled from the International Labour Organisation and the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Thousands of Iranian shopkeepers went on strike for three days in mid-November.
The clerical authorities are particularly sensitive about strikes by oil workers and shopkeepers, as their unions and organisations played critical roles in the 1978-1979 nationwide uprising which overthrew the shah and established the Islamic Republic.
Strikes by political protesters, labourers and merchants have not yet reached the critical level or intensity of those that occurred 43 years ago.
International Crisis Group Iran expert Ali Vaez told the US Vox website: “The main risk is that if the theocracy proves incapable of reining in the protests, the Revolutionary Guards might push the clerics aside and take over.
“But so far, every measure from the regime’s old playbook has failed to crush the protests.”