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Rights groups call for accountability as death toll in Iran protests rises to 326

IHR says 43 children, 25 women among those killed, urges UN not to let perpetrators off the hook; Tehran arrests two more French citizens, now holding seven

In this photo taken by an individual not employed by The Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, students of Sharif University of Technology holding banners saying: 'No to mandatory hijab' and 'Dear Zhina, (Mahsa Amini's nickname), you won't die, your name will become a symbol,' during a protest sparked by the death of 22-year-old Amini in the custody of the country's morality police, in Tehran, October 7, 2022. (AP Photo)
In this photo taken by an individual not employed by The Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, students of Sharif University of Technology holding banners saying: 'No to mandatory hijab' and 'Dear Zhina, (Mahsa Amini's nickname), you won't die, your name will become a symbol,' during a protest sparked by the death of 22-year-old Amini in the custody of the country's morality police, in Tehran, October 7, 2022. (AP Photo)

Iranian security forces have killed at least 326 people in a crackdown on nationwide protests since Mahsa Amini’s death in custody, a rights group said in an updated toll Saturday.

The Islamic Republic has been gripped by protests that erupted over the death of Amini on September 16, three days after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.

The protests were fanned by fury over the dress rules for women, but have grown into a broad movement against the theocracy that has ruled Iran since the 1979 revolution.

“At least 326 people, including 43 children and 25 women, have been killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests,” Oslo-based Iran Human Rights said in a statement posted on its website.

The latest toll represents an increase of 22 since the rights group issued its previous figures on November 5.

It includes at least 123 people killed in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan, on Iran’s southeastern border with Pakistan, a figure which is also up, from 118 in IHR’s last toll.

Screen capture from video purportedly showing anti-regime protests in the southeastern city of Zahedan, Iran, October 2022. (Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Most of those were killed on September 30 when security forces opened fire on protesters after Friday prayers in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan — a massacre activists have dubbed “Bloody Friday.”

Those protests were triggered by the alleged rape in custody of a 15-year-old girl by a police commander in the province’s port city of Chabahar.

Analysts say the Baluchi were inspired by the protests that flared over Amini’s death, which were initially driven by women’s rights but expanded over time to include other grievances.

IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam called on the international community to act as soon as possible to halt the crackdown.

“Establishing an international investigation and accountability mechanism by the UN will both facilitate the process of holding the perpetrators accountable in the future and increase the cost of the continuous repression by the Islamic Republic,” he said in the statement.

Another rights group, Amnesty International, has also called for such a mechanism, which it said was supported by a petition signed by more than one million people.

IHR said it was still investigating reports of other deaths, meaning the actual number killed “is certainly higher.”

Screen capture from video of French citizen Cecile Kohler who is being held in Iran on suspicion of spying. (Twitter, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Meanwhile, two more French citizens have been detained in Iran, bringing to seven the number of people from France held in the protest-wracked country, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said Saturday.

“We are worried about two other compatriots and the last verifications show they are also detained,” she told the daily newspaper, Le Parisien.

Last month, Colonna said five were being held in Iran.

“It is more important than ever to remind Iran of its international obligations. If its aim is blackmail, then it cannot work,” she said.

“We demand their immediate release and access to consular protection. My Iranian counterpart, with whom I had a long, difficult conversation, has committed to respecting this right of access. I expect it to be realized,” Colonna added.

The identity of the two new detainees was not immediately clear.

The others held include French-Iranian researcher Fariba Adelkhah, arrested in June 2019 and later sentenced to five years in prison for undermining national security, allegations her family has strongly denied.

Another, Benjamin Briere, was arrested in May 2020 and later sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison for espionage, charges he rejects.

A woman holds a photo of Benjamin Briere during a rally in Paris, France, on Saturday, January 8, 2022. (AP/Adrienne Surprenant)

French teachers’ union official Cecile Kohler and her partner Jacques Paris were also detained in May this year, accused of seeking to stir labor unrest during teachers’ strikes.

There is also a “Frenchman who was passing through” Tehran, France has said.

The French government last month advised its citizens visiting Iran to “leave the country as soon as possible.”

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