In response to a tweet by Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei accusing the United States government of "murdering" young American protesters, State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said on Saturday that Iranians deserve "freedom and a future, not the Basij's bullets.”
"Khamenei's thugs killed 1,500 Iranians on the streets of Iran last November,” Ortagus wrote, quoting Khamenei's tweet. “At least 23 were children. They deserved freedom and a future.”
In his tweet on August 27, Khamenei had said that when young Americans go into the street, they can't be sure that they won’t be murdered by a gun.
Khamenei was apparently referring to recent protests in some U.S. cities against police violence against African-Americans, some of which led to clashes and deaths.
In fall 2019, protests erupted across Iran in response to the sudden tripling of gas prices. Thousands were arrested, and according to Amnesty International, at least 304 protesters were killed in 37 Iranian cities, with many of the victims suffering gunshot wounds in the upper part of their chest, evidencing that security forces had a shoot-to-kill order.
Reuters, in a December 2019 report, quoted three sources close to Khamenei's inner circle claiming that 1,500 Iranians were killed during the protests. Khamenei had previously told the security forces in a public meeting to “do whatever is necessary to stop" the protests.
U.S.’ Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, estimated the death toll at around 1,000 protesters killed by Iranian security forces in November 2019.
Following the protests, the Iranian government stayed silent on the deaths for nearly seven months, despite criticism by Iranian and international media and political figures, until May 2020, when Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli suggested that the death toll stood around 200 protesters.
Regime officials have also claimed that "enemies" and opposition groups, including monarchists, Mujahedi-e Khalq (MEK) and ISIS, were training the protesters for armed conflict, and that some protesters had also killed other protesters.