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Even Piecemeal Information Reveals Extent Of Protests In Iran

First day of protests, Behbahan, Khuzestan Province, November 15, 2019

Iranian officials pride themselves in concealing the death toll and extent of arrests made during and after the recent protests from the "enemy". Although the authorities have so far provided only piecemeal information, the remarks made by two officials on Tuesday about the arrests in the capital and its nearby towns and townships reveals the extent of the suppression of protesters.

"Fortunately [international organizations and the media] abroad do not have any access to information and figures" on the death toll of the protests and the number of detainees, Prosecutor General Mohammad-Jafar Montazeri said on November 30.

But officials still provide selective and unverifiable figures when asked by the media. According to Anoushiravan Mohseni-Bandpay, the Governor of Tehran Province, in the protests "2021 individuals were arrested in Tehran".

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday he said many of the detainees were freed "immediately after questioning". Bandpay also claimed that more law enforcement officers were injured in the protests than protesters.

In his weekly press conference on Tuesday Judiciary Spokesman Gholam-Hossein Esmaili claimed that the number of those still in detention in Tehran has now dropped to 300 and judiciary authorities have been instructed to investigate their cases to free the remaining detainees who were not "among terrorists".

Despite this claim there have been no indications or social media reports about a mass release of prisoners.

In a letter from Evin Prison in Tehran on Sunday prominent human rights activist Narges Mohammadi has given shocking descriptions of two detainees she has personally spoken with at the prison including a young man who was shot by the security forces. "Infection and unimaginable swelling of his leg has disabled him," she wrote.

A young woman had been verbally abused and beaten to repeat what her interrogator dictated to her on tape and was eventually transferred to a prison where murder and drug convicts are held, Mohammadi who was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2016 wrote in her letter.

Officials have admitted that protests were widespread in the capital and nearby cities. "There were protests in more than 100 locations in Tehran alone and the towns in the west of Tehran," Interior Minister Abolfazl Rahmani-Fazli said in a program on the state-run television on November 26.

Even the number of the cities where protests took place were kept hidden from the public. The protests extended to "more than 200 small and large cities," Ali Darabi, an official of the state-sponsored broadcasting organization said in a commentary published by Fars News Agency on November 30.

International bodies such as Amnesty International, media in Iran and even some Iranian lawmakers have repeatedly called on the Iranian security forces to disclose the number of the dead, detainees and those injured in the protests.

"In countering the unrest people have been treated more harshly than is legally acceptable," Mahmoud Sadeghi, an outspoken reformist lawmaker, was quoted on Tuesday by the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) as saying. Sadeghi also said the death toll was higher in places such as the townships around the capital, Shiraz, Isfahan, Kurdistan Province and Kermanshah.

Iranian security forces have also been making so-called "preventative arrests". In a statement published on Tuesday the Intelligence Ministry declared that it had "destroyed "an anti-revolutionary network" in universities of Tehran and other cities who intended to turn the annual Student Day rallies of December 7 into protests against the November gasoline price hike. The statement did not identify the detained students or the number of detained students. But earlier the lawmaker Sadeghi had said 50 students were detained in Tehran alone.

According to Amnesty International based on verified reports received by the human rights watchdog the death toll from the crackdown on protests has risen to 208 but the real figure is likely to be higher. Amnesty has called on the international community to help ensure accountability of the Iranian authorities who "have shown there are unwilling to carry out independent, impartial and effective investigations into unlawful killings and other arbitrary use of force against protesters".