Iran Deaths: A Further Word on the Figures

Scott Lucas, Prof. 

Earlier this week I wrote, as part of our posts on the casualties and detentions in the post-election conflict in Iran, about a figure of 245 deaths put forward by the on-line journalist and activist Fintan Dunne. While I valued Mr Dunne’s efforts to pin down the story, especially in light of the Iranian Government’s efforts to limit or block knowledge of the deaths, I expressed uncertainty about whether a figure could be drawn from Mr Dunne’s methodology, “We do not know.”

I was distressed to learn this morning that this post has been taken out of context. Apparently those commenting on discussion boards are using it to claim, “Made-up research discredits Fintan Dunne and the Green Movement”.

Mr Dunne’s research is not “made-up”. His 245 estimate was based on news accounts, such as the account from two doctors in Le Figaro of 92 bodies in the hospital in which they work and the revelation this week of 34 bodies of protesters in three Tehran hospitals on 20 June. It also is based on Mr Dunne’s sources, some of whom may not be able to be revealed for fear of Government retribution.

As there is no possibility of a 100% count of the deaths, or any official partial count that would carry credibility, Mr Dunne had to extrapolate from what we do know. He did so using a methodology based on a ratio of deaths in Tehran to those outside the capital (where there is little information), an estimate of the numbers of deaths being hidden by the Government, and other factors.

Personally, that is not my approach. I prefer to work from confirmed information, partly out of concern that any estimate can be labelled by a regime as “propaganda”.

To my chagrin, however, I find that this is precisely what has happened to Mr Dunne’s work. So let me be clear: there is a basis for his methodology, and his estimate is more than plausible in the context of those deaths that have been established. And, for those who have political motives in denigrating the 245 figure, you should beware that eventually the confirmed (if partial) total will be greater.

It is unfortunate that, in a conflict such as this, those who strive to lift the veil of secrecy are the first targets for denigration. I regret any inadvertent support I may have given for this effort to undermine Mr Dunne’s work, even as I anticipate that his efforts and those of other valuable journalists inside and outside Iran will give us an approximation of the “truth”.

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