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UN: Iran Protest Casualty Numbers Blurry Due to Restricted Access

FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2022, photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, women run away from anti-riot police during an anti-government protest in Tehran.

U.N. agencies say restrictions in accessing information in Iran make it difficult to verify the number of people killed and injured in the anti-government protests that began last month. Iranian state media report 41 protesters and security forces have died; however, Iran Human Rights, a Norway-based nonprofit organization, says at least 154 people have been killed by security forces.

Whatever the true number, U.N. agencies agree the use of lethal force against protesters and bystanders has led to the killing of dozens of individuals, including an alarming number of children.

The protests across Iran show no signs of letting up despite a crackdown by authorities. The protests were triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody nearly a month ago. Her death came three days after she was arrested by Iran’s so-called morality police for improperly wearing her hijab.

UNICEF spokesman James Elder raised concern about reports of children and adolescents being killed, injured, and detained amid the ongoing public unrest.

“We share in the outrage and shock of all fair-minded people who are seeing these images of girls and women being beaten. … UNICEF calls again on the protection of children from all forms of violence and harm, including during conflicts and political events,” Elder said. “Violence against children by anyone, and in any context, is, of course, indefensible.”

The U.N. human rights office acknowledged that its information is patchy; however, it noted reports in the provinces of Sistan and Baluchistan indicate at least 66 people, including children were killed. This, after security forces fired live ammunition, metal pellets and tear gas at protesters, bystanders and worshippers after Friday prayers on September 30.

Human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the government has attributed the use of force in these provinces to terrorist groups.

“We have also received reports of mass arrests and detentions of protestors and at least 90 members of civil society,” Shamdasani said. “This includes human rights defenders, lawyers, artists and journalists. We have also seen very worrying reports of killings of human rights defenders. And again, it is very difficult to verify the circumstances.”

Shamdasani is renewing a call for the Iranian authorities to mount an independent investigation into Mahsa Amini’s death. She urged authorities to heed the calls and demands of the protesters rather than resorting to violence, arrests and other means to disburse them.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said the widespread protests following Amini’s death are not the actions of “ordinary Iranians.” He accused the United States and Israel of planning the demonstrations. The government also claims Amini died of a heart attack and was not mistreated. Her family said she had no history of heart trouble and that her body bore bruises and other signs of beating.