Iran’s “Martyrs of Public Security” Reach 53

18 Nov 2022

Iran’s “Martyrs of Public Security” Reach 53

The November 18 edition of the Iran Media Review considers the unprecedented number of security forces killed during recent protests in Iran.

By Ali Alfoneh

November 18, 2022

More than two months since the eruption of anti-government protests in Iran, the Islamic Republic is breaking a remarkable record: Based on data from Persian-language coverage of funeral services in Iran, 53 members of various branches of Iran’s security forces have been killed while suppressing the ongoing protests. This is the highest number of uniformed regime personnel fatalities, or “martyrs of public security” in regime parlance, during domestic unrest since the early 1980s.  

The Islamic Republic itself was born out of anti-government protests, which led to the victory of the revolution in 1979. Before long, the revolutionaries turned against each other in their attempts to seize control over the new regime. But by June 1981, the dominant group among the ruling elites of the Islamic Republic defeated all organized opposition and consolidated its rule.

Since that time, Iran has experienced seven major anti-government protests: 

  • The 1992 protests provoked by local government to bulldoze shantytowns in Mashhad 
  • The 1995 protests against a 30% increase in bus fares from the suburbs to central Tehran 
  • The 1999 student uprisings against the closure of the Salam newspaper 
  • The 2009 protests against fraudulent elections that secured President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection 
  • The 2017-18 protests against the increased price of foodstuffs 
  • The 2019 protests against gasoline rationing and price hikes 
  • The 2022 protests against the death of Mahsa Amini and enforcement of the hijab law by the “morality police”   

During the 1990s, then-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s urban modernization plans and economic stabilization policy provoked violent protests among unprivileged classes, who lost government subsidies and even their dwellings in shantytowns in Mashhad, in northeastern Iran. Despite their size and importance, the government personnel death toll was limited to six police officers. The dramatic student uprisings in 1999, which were Iran’s replay of China’s Tiananmen Square protests a decade earlier, did not entail loss of life for the regime’s uniformed personnel. And the total death toll of 23 regime members in the wake of protests against the fraudulent elections in 2009 is somewhat debatable, as some of the victims may have been onlookers rather than uniformed government personnel. The 2018 economic protests cost the life of one member of the Basij militia, and six members were killed in the 2019 protests.   

The 2022 protests, on the other hand, have hitherto cost the lives of 53 uniformed regime personnel, 31 of whom served in the Basij, nine in the IRGC, ten in the Law Enforcement Forces, two in the army, who appear to have countered the protesters in a private capacity, not as a part of a deployed army force, and one, whose service affiliation cannot be determined. Just as remarkable are the causes of death of regime personnel: 26 were shot, ten stabbed, four hit by cars, one struck by a hand grenade, another hit by a molotov cocktail, and yet another beaten to death, while the specific cause of death of the rest is unclear. Use of rifles appears to have been more widespread in the periphery provinces of Kurdistan and Sistan and Baluchistan. More remarkable, one Colonel of the police was shot when his home was attacked, and another Colonel of the police was stabbed to death when driving home in civilian dress, but stabbed to death when his car was stopped and his affiliation with the Law Enforcement Forces became known. 


Ali Alfoneh

is a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. He is the author of Political Succession in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Demise of the Clergy and the Rise of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (2020).