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No, Iran has not sentenced 15,000 protesters to death

Journalists hit back at widely circulated figure, which was shared by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a later deleted tweet
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a protest in support of freedom for women in Iran, 29 October 2022 in Ottawa, Canada (AFP)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has faced criticism after claiming that almost 15,000 people had been sentenced to death in Iran over their participation in the Mahsa Amini protests.

In a tweet on Tuesday - later deleted - Trudeau expressed solidarity with weekslong demonstrations over the death of Amini, a Kurdish woman who died after being detained by the Iranian morality police over "inappropriate hijab".

"Canada denounces the Iranian regime’s barbaric decision to impose the death penalty on nearly 15,000 protestors," he wrote.

"These brave Iranians were fighting for their human rights – and we continue to stand united in support of them, and united against the regime’s heinous actions."

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The figure he cited has been widely circulated by anti-government voices across social media, including on Twitter and Instagram, but it has also provoked raised eyebrows from journalists and campaigners.

Siavash Ardalan, a senior reporter for BBC Persian, criticised Trudeau's decision to repeat the claim.

"I don't know the source of the news that 15,000 protesters were sentenced to death, but even Justin Trudeau repeated it," Ardalan tweeted.

"Apart from showing how weak the Canadian prime minister's news sources are, it also has a terrible result that the execution of less than 15,000 people will be considered a success by the government."

Shayan Sardarizadeh, a journalist for BBC Monitoring, also called on people to stop circulating the information that 15,000 people have been sentenced to death.

"The Iranian regime is horrific, brutal and ruthless as it actually is. There's no need to make up stories," he tweeted.

'The risk was still there'

According to the UN, more than 1,000 indictments have been issued against those arrested in connection with the protests just in the Tehran province.

UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Jeremy Laurence on Tuesday said that one protester had been sentenced to death for "waging war against God" and "corruption on Earth" for allegedly damaging public property.

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At least nine others have also been charged with offences that warrant the death penalty.

Hengaw Organisation for Human Rights, a Kurdish human rights group focusing on Iranian Kurdistan, told Middle East Eye that the "fate and whereabouts of most of the detainees are unknown till this moment".

However, Hengaw emphasised that although the sentences have not been handed down yet, the risk was still there.

"All the detainees who were arrested during the protests are in danger of being sentenced to death by Iranian judicial system," the group said.

They referenced an apparent letter put out by 227 Iranian parliamentarians last week that called on the judiciary to carry out death sentences against those arrested during the protests.

A number of parliamentarians have since claimed, however, that they did not support the statement and that the letter was a "fake" circulated by one parliamentary faction.

Domestic pressure

Trudeau has faced domestic pressure in recent months to take a tougher stance against Iran.

He has faced criticism over his decision not to proscribe the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation, despite its involvement in the shooting down of a passenger jet in January 2020, killing 176 people, mostly heading to Canada via Ukraine.

The downing of the jet, which the IRGC has said was an accident, has sparked repeated demonstrations in both Canada and Iran calling for greater accountability.

In early October, in response to the suppression of demonstrators during the Mahsa Amini protests - with 326 killed so far according to the UN - Trudeau announced he was banning thousands of IRGC members from the country, but stopped short of a full terrorist designation.

In an apparent attempt to boost his credibility with anti-government protesters in Iran, Trudeau has appeared at a number of demonstrations in Canada in recent weeks.

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