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An Annual Review of Lies: “Most of those Killed were Government Agents” (

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An Annual Review of Lies: “Most of those Killed were Government Agents” 12 |

Publishing fake news and making false claims in the Islamic Republic of Iran is nothing new. And yet between November 22, 2019 and March 19, 2020, the volume of lies propagated by the Iranian government was unprecedented. The six subjects covered by fake news pieces over those four months were the November 2019 protests and the numbers of people killed, Iran’s retaliation for the US assassination of General Ghasem Soleimani, the downing of the Ukrainian passenger jet by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp and, finally, the coronavirus epidemic.

On the occasion of the Iranian new year, IranWire examines government misinformation campaigns on these issues in a new six-part series. 

In the second part of this series we review efforts by government officials to cover up the number of those killed during the November 2019 protests.

Following nationwide protests in Iran in November 2019, Amnesty International reported on December 16 that “at least 304 people were killed and thousands were injured between 15 and 18 November as authorities crushed protests using lethal force.” And on December 23, an Iranian government official told Reuters that about 1,500 people had reportedly been killed during the protests, including at least 17 teenagers and about 400 women.

On the other hand, on January 2, Mostafa Kavakebian, a member of parliament from Tehran, told parliament’s national security committee that, according to “officials in charge”, 170 people had been killed during November protests. Elias Hazrati, another representative from Tehran, quoting “informed security officials” in a statement on February 21 said the number of those killed had been “less than 250.”

Despite these unofficial figures already finding their way into the media, officially the Islamic Republic authorities have refused to announce their own numbers; instead, they have made contradictory and controversial claims.

“The prosecutor’s office will announce the numbers based on figures that it receives from the medical examiner,” said Jamal Orf, Deputy Interior Minister for Political Affairs, on November 30. When this did not happen, two days later Mahmoud Sadeghi, a member of parliament from Tehran, tweeted that “if officials in charge do not announce accurate statistics for those killed, injured and arrested, members of parliament will have no option but to publish documented statistics based on reports by the people.” But Sadeghi’s promise was also not kept.

Then, on December 9, government spokesman Ali Rabiei promised that President Hassan Rouhani’s administration would provide a list of those killed in individual provinces as well as declaring the causes of their deaths. Again, nothing happened.

“We will announce the number of those killed in Tehran province in November during the next press conference,” promised Tehran’s provincial Governor Anooshirvan Mohseni Bandpey on January 3. Once more, this promise was not kept.

On February 16, President Rouhani described the numbers of victims published by foreign media as exaggerated and outlandish. “The [medical examiner] has these statistics and they can announce them. But the real figures that we have received, as of now, is a far cry from figures published by the media,” he added.

On February 17, in response to President Rouhani, Abbas Masjedi Arani, head of the medical examiner body, said that “based on the decision by the Security Council, it is the duty of the government” to announce the numbers. His organization, he said, “has informed the authorities of the numbers of the dead and has no duty to announce them to the public.”

In a similar statement on February 18, Judiciary Spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said that it was the responsibility of the country’s Security Council to publish the numbers of those killed.

On February 19, in response to Masjedi Arani, Mahmoud Vaezi, Rouhani’s chief of staff, used this argument that Arani had said the Security Council must announce the statistics but “in his letter he does not say which security council so we have sent this letter to both the National Security Council and the Supreme National Security Council.”

“What the president said was based on the fact that the Legal Medicine Organization [medical examiner] is the authority for deciding the cause of death and for issuing burial permits. But we are not going to linger because these statistics must be published in a transparent way,” said government spokesman Ali Rabiei on the same day, again promising that “these figures will be announced within the next few days by an agency in charge.”

Needless to say, this promise was also not kept.


Breaking Down the Dead

To justify their foot-dragging in announcing the number of fatalities during the November protests, officials have repeatedly used the term “break-down” in the sense of classifying the dead.

“Damages, the numbers of detainees, the injured and the dead are being tallied,” said government spokesman Ali Rabiei on December 4. “Of course, these numbers must be broken down and this break-down is also going on. The Interior Ministry has notified governors … and the judiciary is breaking down the numbers.” On December 9, Rabiei also promised that the statistics for the dead “broken down by province and by the cause of death” would soon be announced. He again made the same promise on December 25.

This emphasis on the “break-down” of numbers was taking place at the same time that security agencies were pressuring grieving families to say their loved ones had died not because they had participated in street protests but for other reasons.

Even so, it was clear the “break-down” was not going the way the government wanted. Three months after the protests, judiciary spokesman Esmaili kept repeating that the numbers must be analyzed before they could be announced.

Even in the absence of any official numbers, Iranian officials were trying to muddy the waters. “Some of the dead were killed by weapons other than those of the Armed Forces,” said Esmaili on December 31. “Some among the dead were killed by machete, rocks, hunting rifles or fire,” announced Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli on November 26. “At the height of the protests, we discovered 84 hunting rifles with bullets in a Peugeot car and some of those killed across the country were shot by this kind of rifle,” said Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri on December 12.

On the same day, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, pushed the official narrative even further. “More than 85 percent of those killed in the cities of Tehran province during recent events had not participated in any of the protest rallies.” He claimed that these people were killed in a “suspicious way” with weapons that did not belong to security forces.

These statements show that the government wanted to sell the idea that most of those killed in November were not protesters but individuals who were killed in a suspicious manner by persons other than government forces.

On December 17, Mohammad Javad Larijani, spokesman for the judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights, put the same claim in a more bizarre way when he said that the November protests were a clash between “terrorists” and security forces. “Eighty-five percent of those killed were security forces or people who were defending their homes against assaults by the rioters, and 15 percent belonged to terrorist forces.”

On December 19, after repeating the promise that the number of the dead would be announced after the “break-down” is complete, Attorney General Mohammad Javad Montazeri explained what could be expected from such an analysis. “Most of the casualties of these events were law-enforcement forces,” he said.

On January 1, General Hossein Rahimi, commander of Tehran’s police force, went so far as to claim that “Not even one person was killed during the recent unrest in Tehran, whereas more than 220 police agents were hurt. We did not hurt even one of the rioters in 165 places where clashes occurred.”


Related Coverage:

An Annual Review of Lies: Protesters "Wanted to Kill Half of Iranians", 23 March 2020

IranWire Reports on November 2019 Protests

Official Claims Mahshahr Protesters Were Armed, 12 December 2019

Heavy Machine Guns Used to Kill Protesters, 2 December 2019

Iranian Doctors: The Protesters' Heads and Hearts Were Targeted by the Police, 28 November 2019

Security Forces Attacked Isfahan and then Blamed the Locals, 27 November 2019

Government Source: 218 Dead and 4,523 Arrested in Iran Protests, 25 November 2019

Politician Says 130 Dead in Recent Protests, 24 November 2019

Twenty Dead as Shots Fired From Friday Imam’s Helicopter, 19 November 2019

Iranian Kurdish City Under Siege and Family of the Dead Ordered to be Silent, 18 November 2019

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