The killing of Mahsa Amini, 22, in the custody of the Iranian morality police, sparked a wave of violent demonstrations.
Paris (AFP) – At least 17 people were killed as popular unrest erupted Thursday across Iran over the death of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in custody, local media reported, after internet services were cut off in a security crackdown.
Amini, 22, died last week after being arrested by the morality police of the Islamic Republic for allegedly wearing the hijab in an “inappropriate” manner, and news of her death sparked widespread outrage.
Protesters were heard chanting “Death to the dictator” and “Women, life, freedom” in a video widely circulated online during the largest wave of demonstrations that has rocked the country in nearly three years.
The US Treasury placed the morality police on its sanctions blacklist, holding it responsible for Amini’s death, citing “abuse and violence against Iranian women and violation of the rights of peaceful Iranian protesters.”
A protester in Istanbul holds a picture of Muhassa (Juhaina) Amini high
Some Iranian women have symbolically burned headscarves and cut their hair in protest of the strict dress code, which has echoed in solidarity demonstrations from New York to Istanbul.
According to local media, the official death toll has risen to at least 17, including five security personnel.
But the Iranian Human Rights Organization (IHR), an Oslo-based NGO, said it had counted at least 31 civilian deaths.
Its director, Mahmoud al-Amiri Moghadam, said Iranians had mobilized “to achieve their basic rights and human dignity…and the government is responding to their peaceful protest with bullets.”
Amnesty International and other rights groups said that security forces fired at crowds with birdshot and metal pellets, and deployed tear gas and water cannons.
Protests in Iran
The official Iranian news agency (IRNA) said the demonstrators threw stones at them, set police cars on fire and chanted anti-government slogans.
Unprecedented photos showed protesters defacing or burning pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the late commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Qassem Soleimani.
Iranian media said that the authorities on Thursday arrested two photographers, Nilofar Hamidi, of the reformist Shargh newspaper, and Yelda Mwairi, who works in the local press, as well as activist Mohammad Reza Jalipur.
London-based Iran International Channel said a prominent freedom of expression activist, Hossein Ronaghi, was arrested while he was giving an interview.
– ‘I am afraid’ –
Some Iranian women cut their hair in protest in solidarity demonstrations from New York to Istanbul
There were fears of an escalation of violence after Iran restricted internet access and banned messaging apps including WhatsApp and Instagram, as it has in previous crackdowns.
The two apps were most used in Iran after authorities blocked other platforms in recent years, including Facebook and Twitter.
“People in Iran are deprived of online apps and services,” Instagram head Adam Mosseri wrote on Twitter, adding, “We hope that their right to internet will quickly return.”
The human rights organization said mobile internet was completely cut off in the major northern city of Tabriz.
Activists said Amini, whose Kurdish first name is Juhayna, was fatally hit in the head after her arrest in Tehran – an allegation that officials denied.
Iranian women on the streets of Tehran told AFP that they are now being more careful about their dress to avoid confrontations with the morality police.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, speaking in New York where he attended the United Nations General Assembly, complained of “double standards”
“I am scared,” said Nazanin, a 23-year-old nurse who asked that only her first name be used for safety reasons, adding that she believed the morality police “shouldn’t confront people at all.”
CNN veteran journalist Christiane Amanpour said Wednesday’s interview with conservative Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in New York was called off after one of her aides insisted on wearing a headscarf.
“I politely refused. Amanpour, who was born in Britain to an Iranian father, wrote on Twitter, ‘We are in New York, where there is no law or tradition regarding the hijab.'”
– ‘enemy plot’ –
A photo obtained by AFP outside Iran shows protesters blocking traffic on a busy highway in Tehran
Speaking in New York, where he attended the United Nations General Assembly, Raisi complained of a “double standard,” referring to Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories and the killing of indigenous women in Canada.
But he later told reporters that Amini’s death “will definitely be investigated,” confirming the authorities’ earlier announcement that there would be an investigation.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, in a speech at the United Nations on Thursday, accused Tehran’s leadership of creating a “hate orchestra” against Jews.
He said Iran’s ideologues “hate and kill Muslims who think differently, such as Salman Rushdie and Mohassa Amini.”
The protests are among the most serious in Iran since the unrest in Iran in November 2019 sparked by a sharp rise in gasoline prices. Then the crackdown killed hundreds, according to Amnesty International.
The unrest comes at a particularly sensitive time for the leadership, as Iran’s economy remains mired in a crisis caused in large part by sanctions over its nuclear program.
Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard called the protests an “enemy’s plot” and a “vain attempt doomed to failure,” praising the “police’s efforts and sacrifices.”
Iran’s Islamic Development Coordination Council announced on Friday a march to support the headscarf and conservative dress for women, the Iranian news agency (IRNA) reported.