As Iranian anger against their theocratic leaders raged into a fourth week, Iran’s human rights group said on Saturday that the death toll had risen to at least 185, including at least 19 children. Some Iranians who joined the protests have been killed instantly by security forces as they carry out a massive crackdown to quell the upheaval, while others have died later from their injuries.
Many Iranians injured by security forces during the protests are too afraid to go to the hospital for treatment because some protesters seeking medical attention have been detained, according to multiple accounts shared with CBS News, from both inside and outside Iran.
News reports has argued that Iran’s morality police — the very force almost a month ago that sparked the current unrest – even using ambulances in the capital, Tehran, to transport injured protesters directly to police stations.
“As soon as they enter the hospital, there are intelligence agents and members of the Revolutionary Guard who register their names,” a doctor in Iran told CBS News on condition of anonymity. “We have seen cases where the injured patients have been operated on in hospitals and later discharged and then arrested.”
This is why, the doctor explained, many injured protesters stay at home and appeal to doctors like him for help in private. He said he has seen a wide variety of wounds, from a wide variety of weapons.
“[The security forces] use a variety of weapons to suppress the people — from plastic to lead bullets to Kalashnikovs, even sniper fire,” the doctor told CBS News. “We had a case of a person who was shot but preferred to be blinded rather than hospitalized.”
The doctor said he and other doctors who have treated wounded protesters in secret have been constantly threatened by Iranian authorities, and some have been pressured to sign written pledges to desist.
On Monday, a Kurdish group called the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights reported that plainclothes security agents had severely beaten and detained an Iranian doctor for treating wounded protesters in Amini’s hometown of Saqqez.
Despite the dangers, the doctor who spoke to CBS News said he continued his work because many protesters try to treat themselves at home, “somehow,” for fear of being arrested if they go to the hospital.
Other Iranian doctors, who also did not want to be identified out of concern for their safety, told CBS News they felt a duty to help the wounded. One was an Iranian nurse who said she treated two protesters whose skulls had been fractured.
“They were afraid to go to the hospital,” she said, adding that she had to tend to their wounds on the street, amid the unrest, so she didn’t have time to clean their injuries properly.
“There really isn’t even a chance to adhere to basic principles,” the nurse said. “I don’t know how they’re feeling… I’m still really worried about them.”
The risk of arrest of injured protesters is real, according to another Iranian nurse and emergency call operator.
“We are required to report all shootings to the police because all phone calls are recorded,” she said.
She described what happened when an ambulance was called to help a 14-year-old protester who was shot after school.
“The police arrived… they took the boy away with the catheter still in his hand,” the nurse said. “Please tell people not to call 911 [Iran’s emergency number] and instead go to trusted private clinics if their problem is not serious.”
The desperation of injured protesters who want to avoid hospitals is clear, said Dr. Kayvan Mirhadi, an Iranian-American and chief of internal medicine at Clifton Springs Hospital in New York. Mirhadi said he receives about 500 Instagram messages daily from injured protesters in Iran asking him for medical attention.
“So a person bleeding out of the leg from a gunshot wound is just waiting for my answer on the phone,” he told CBS News. “It’s just a horrible situation… because they’re so scared… They’re kind of just waiting for me to tell them what to do.”
He said he first tries to refer them to doctors he trusts in Iran, but if they can’t find one, he tries to guide them through the best home remedies he can recommend. Their injuries range from fractures and significant head injuries due to physical combat, to second- and third-degree burns from electric batons, as well as bullet and pellet wounds.
These accounts correspond to what Human Rights Watch (HRW) have called an “excessive and lethal” use of force by Iranian authorities during the protests. Iran’s security forces’ use of shotguns and assault rifles on protesters violates international norms, Tara Sepehri Far, a senior Iran researcher at HRW, told CBS News.
“The pattern points to those being killed by bullets, often in areas that are above their chest,” she said.
“I have step-by-step instructions on what to do with burns, with bullets,” Mirhadi said. He has also sent treatment suggestions to his Instagram pageincluding how to treat gunshot wounds to the chest and eyes.
Mirhadi said he receives many photos like the one on the left, which he said appeared to show a teenage girl with several birdshot wounds to her back. He recommended that she use forceps to pick out the pellets and then disinfect the wounds with Betadine, a topical antiseptic.
“I never make antibiotic recommendations through Instagram, but I had to because this girl could get septic [shock] because she said, ‘There’s no way I’m going to the hospital with this. If I go, I’ll go to jail,” Mirhadi told CBS News.
The New York doctor first gained a large following on social media in Iran by providing medical advice on COVID-19.
“I feel very responsible,” he added. “The things I do in a hospital with others and nurses, I do on Instagram with a patient’s family and hope someone comes in and helps.”
Another Iranian-American physician, Dr. Kamiar Alaei, and his brother Dr. Arash Alaei, who is also in the US, has begun remotely training doctors in Iran to formally document the injuries and deaths of protesters. Both brothers are former Iranian political prisoners. They were jailed after being accused of trying to foment a soft revolution through their work to fight HIV/AIDS in the country – a charge they both denied. Both men are also being inundated with pleas for help from injured protesters in Iran.
“There are different types of injuries to different parts of the body, especially the head and hands because of the relay [strikes] and shotgun [pellets] on different parts of the body, mainly the back and face,” Kamiar Alaei told CBS News, adding that he had never seen anything like “the extent of injuries and the number of people who were shot, including minors and girls” in Iran.
“The regime aims to undermine the scale and significance of harm by reducing [official] the number of people who were killed because they think that all the injuries will not be traceable later,” he said. “We aim to document them to show the extent of the torture and the significance of physical and mental injuries. .. to make the regime accountable before international bodies.”
Iranian authorities have not updated the death toll for weeks as their crackdown continues. They stopped counting at 41.
Mirhadi said he feels almost “hopeless” because he can’t keep up with all the “SOS messages” he receives.
However, he has a message for Iran’s rulers: “These are your people. You are hurting them for being out there protesting for their own rights. At least let the doctors treat them. Don’t take the ambulances to detention centers.”
“It’s very basic stuff,” he added. “It should be a basic human right to allow them to do that.”
Mirhadi said he knew of a doctor in Iran who was arrested for helping protesters, and he has not been able to find out what happened to him.