Some 1,500 people were killed, most of them civilians, during a two-week period of violence last month, when residents of the Islamic Republic protested against the government in one of the largest public demonstrations since the country’s 1979 revolution, the Reuters news service reported Monday.
When the unrest broke out in the middle of last month, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei instructed the country’s security forces to do whatever was necessary to quell the protests, several senior Iranian officials told the outlet, on condition of anonymity.
“The Islamic Republic is in danger. Do whatever it takes to end it. You have my order,” Khamenei told his inner circle, one of the sources said.
The protests began on November 15 following a surprise hike in fuel prices.
Iran has yet to give overall figures for the number of people killed or arrested when security forces moved in to quell the unrest, which saw buildings torched and shops looted.
According to Reuters, approximately 1,500 people were killed, including at least 17 teenagers and some 400 women, in less than two weeks during the unrest. Some members of Iran’s security forces and police were reportedly among the dead.
That death toll is significantly higher than previous estimates. The United States State Department told the outlet that it believed that hundreds had been killed, though it had seen reports that approximately 1,000 people were dead. The most recent report by the Amnesty International organization estimated that at least 304 people had been killed.
Since the protests began last month, international humanitarian organizations have accused Iran of using excessive violence against protesters.
Last Friday, a group of independent UN rights experts said Iranian security forces were deliberately shooting to kill the unarmed protesters.
The experts pointed to reports and footage showing Iranian security forces “not only fired live ammunition at unarmed protesters, but also aimed at their heads and vital organs.
“Targeting these parts of the body shows that the security forces were aiming to kill or at least cause serious injury,” they said, adding that they were “extremely disturbed that the Iranian authorities would use such tactics against peaceful protesters.”
The UN experts said there appeared to be higher death tolls in areas with large ethnic minority populations.
The UN rights office said earlier this month that at least 7,000 people had reportedly been arrested in Iran since the mass demonstrations erupted.
In a statement Friday, the rights experts said they believed thousands were still being held and called for their release.
“Reports suggest that detainees are being tortured or are suffering other forms of ill-treatment, sometimes to extract forced confessions,” said the independent experts, who are appointed by the UN but who do not speak on behalf of the world body.
“Some are also reportedly being denied medical treatment, including for injuries caused by the security forces’ use of excessive force,” they said, adding that yet others were being held “incommunicado or subjected to enforced disappearances.”
Iranian officials have accused the United States, Israel and several European countries of fomenting the nationwide protests, which saw some demonstrators burning the photograph of Khamenei and calling for a return of the Shah, Iran’s previous leader.
AFP contributed to this report.