MORE than 3700 people were arrested in Iran during protests over the past two weeks, according to a reformist legislator, far more than authorities had previously claimed.

The protests were the largest seen in Iran since the disputed 2009 presidential election, and saw some demonstrators calling for the government to be overthrown.

Officials figures suggested more than 20 people have been killed in the unrest, but the NCRI – Iran’s opposition in exile – puts the figure at more than double that.

Mahmoud Sadeghi of Tehran was quoted on the Iranian parliament’s official website as saying that different security and intelligence forces detained the protesters, making it difficult to know the exact number of detainees. He did not elaborate nor say where he got the figure.

Authorities had previously said “hundreds” were arrested in Tehran alone, not offering a total figure as the demonstrations spread into the Iranian countryside, including small towns.

Interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli has said about 42,000 people at most took part in the anti-government protests.

The NCRI’s president-elect Maryam Rajavi said the latest protests differed from those in 2009.

She wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “The 2009 protests were sparked by rifts at the top of the regime. The current protests – which began in Iran’s second-largest city of Mashhad and quickly spread across the country – were motivated by rising prices, economic ruin, widespread corruption and resentment toward the regime.

“This systemic economic mismanagement has its roots in the political system, and it grows worse every day. That is why the demand for regime change surfaced almost immediately. It seems to be the only conceivable outcome.

“Another major difference: the 2009 uprising was initially led by the upper middle class, with university students at its core and Tehran as its centre. The recent demonstrations span a much broader swath of the population – the middle class, the underprivileged, workers, students, women and young people. Nearly all of society has been represented on the picket line.”