An Iranian general has acknowledged that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest surrounding nationwide protests, giving the first official word on casualties in two months.
The estimate is considerably lower than the toll reported by Human Rights Activists in Iran, a US-based group that has been closely tracking the protests since they erupted after the death of a young woman being held by the country’s morality police.
The activist group says 451 protesters and 60 security forces have been killed since the start of the unrest in September and that more than 18,000 people have been detained.
The nationwide protests were sparked by the woman’s death, but rapidly escalated into calls for the overthrow of the Islamic theocracy that has governed Iran since its 1979 revolution.
General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the aerospace division of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, was quoted by a website close to the Guard as saying that more than 300 people have been killed, including “martyrs” – an apparent reference to security forces.
He also suggested that many of those killed were ordinary Iranians not involved in the protests.
He did not provide an exact figure or say where his estimate came from.
Gen Hajizadeh reiterated the official claim that the protests have been fomented by Iran’s enemies, including Western countries and Saudi Arabia, without providing evidence.
The protesters say they are fed up after decades of social and political repression, and deny having any foreign agenda.
The protests have spread across the country and drawn support from artists, athletes and other public figures.
The niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently called on people to pressure their governments to cut ties with Tehran over its violent suppression of the demonstrations.
In a video posted online by her France-based brother, Farideh Moradkhani urged “conscientious people of the world” to support Iranian protesters.
The video was shared online this week after Ms Moradkhani’s reported arrest on November 23, according to the activist group.
Ms Moradkhani is a long-time activist whose late father was an opposition figure married to Ayatollah Khamenei’s sister and is the closest member of the supreme leader’s family to be arrested.
The branch of the family has opposed Ayatollah Khamenei for decades and Ms Moradkhani has been imprisoned on previous occasions for her activism.
“I ask the conscientious people of the world to stand by us and ask their governments not to react with empty words and slogans but with real action and stop any dealings with this regime,” she said in her video statement.
The protests, now in their third month, have faced a brutal crackdown by Iranian security forces using live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas to suppress demonstrations.
Despite the crackdown, demonstrations are ongoing and scattered across cities.
The unrest was sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in Tehran for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.
It has quickly morphed into one of the most serious challenges to Iran’s establishment in more than four decades.
Iran refuses to cooperate with a fact-finding mission that the UN Human Rights Council recently voted to establish.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will not engage in any cooperation, whatsoever, with the political committee,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said.