Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office confirmed Tuesday that it deleted a tweet from his official account that denounced Iran using incomplete “initial reporting” that “lacked necessary context.”
The message castigated Iran for handing down the death penalty to “nearly 15,000 protesters” — but the number of those facing death, which has circulated on social media since the weekend, has been widely discredited as disinformation.
The Prime Minister’s Office said in an emailed statement that the tweet was “based on reporting of serious concerns raised by international human rights advocates warning of possible future sentences, including the death penalty, imposed on thousands of Iranian protesters who have already been detained by the regime.”
Trudeau’s account published the message in both English and French just before 1:30 a.m. and it was online for about 11 hours before being deleted. Trudeau is in Indonesia for the G20 leaders’ summit, where there is a 13-hour time difference.
“Canada denounces the Iranian regime’s barbaric decision to impose the death penalty on nearly 15,000 protesters,” the English tweet said. “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.”
His office pointed to reports on news sites, including Newsweek and Yahoo, that stated 15,000 people were facing the death penalty. An Instagram post citing that number also went viral and was shared by celebrities before being removed.
The statement from Trudeau’s office did not express any regret and did not elaborate on the extent to which the information was vetted before it was shared.
The false reports emerged after state media in Iran said on Sunday that an anti-government protester would face a death sentence — likely the first instance of Iranian courts deciding on the harshest penalty for people involved in recent human-rights demonstrations.
The mass protests began two months ago, after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in the custody of Iran’s morality police after being arrested for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code for women.
Activists have recorded at least 344 deaths in clashes with police and 15,820 arrests of protesters so far.
Iranian leaders have accused enemies, including the United States, of fomenting the unrest. Hardline Iranian lawmakers have urged the judiciary to “deal decisively” with the perpetrators, with one group calling for death sentences for those arrested.
Last week, Iran’s judiciary signalled that authorities intend to hand down harsh sentences to convicted demonstrators, saying courts will deal firmly with anyone who causes disruption or commits crimes during the protests.
More than 1,000 people have been indicted in Tehran province alone in connection with what the government has labelled as “riots.”
“Now, the public, even protesters who are not supportive of riots, demand from the judiciary and security institutions to deal with the few people who have caused disturbances in a firm, deterrent and legal manner,” judiciary spokesperson Masoud Setayeshi said last week.
Canada has strongly condemned the Iranian regime over its crackdown. It has levied economic sanctions against Iranian decision-makers and, on Monday, formally banned a swath of top officials from entering the country.