Protests spread across Iran over Mahsa Amini’s death after the young woman was arrested by morality police, killing at least eight people in a crackdown, according to the death toll.
Public outrage has flared in the Islamic Republic since authorities announced on Friday the death of 22-year-old Amini, who was detained for allegedly wearing an “indecent” veil. Activists said the woman, whose Kurdish first name is Gina, was fatally hit in the head, a claim denied by officials who announced an investigation.
Video footage circulating on social media showed some of the female protesters defiantly removing their headscarves and burning them with fire or symbolically cutting their hair before the crowd cheered.
“No to the veil, no to the turban, yes to freedom and equality!” Demonstrators in Tehran were heard chanting at a rally that was echoed by solidarity protests abroad, including in New York and Istanbul.
Iranian state media reported on Wednesday that on the fifth night of street rallies that extended to 15 cities, police used tear gas and made arrests to disperse crowds of up to 1,000 people.
The London-based rights group ARTICLE 19 said it was “deeply concerned by reports of the unlawful use of force by Iranian police and security forces,” including the use of live ammunition.
The official IRNA news agency said that the demonstrators threw stones at security forces, set fire to police cars and trash cans, and chanted anti-government slogans, adding that demonstrations were held in cities including Mashhad, Tabriz, Isfahan and Shiraz.
“Death to the Dictator” and “Women, Life, Freedom” protesters could be heard shouting in video footage spread outside Iran, despite internet restrictions reported by Internet Access Control Netblocks.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke publicly on Wednesday, but without mentioning the widespread unrest, and ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi was scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York later in the day.
Iranian expert David Rigolet Rose of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs said the wave of protests over Amini’s death was “a very big shock, it is a societal crisis.”
“It is difficult to know the outcome, but there is a disconnect between the authorities with the DNA of the 1979 Islamic revolution and an increasingly secular society,” he said.
“It is an entire social project that is in question. There is hesitation among the authorities about moving forward with regard to this movement.”
The Center for Human Rights in Iran based in New York She described her death as an “avoidable tragedy”.
“Mahasa Amini is one among the countless victims of the Islamic Republic’s war on women,” said Hadi Gimi, the group’s executive director. “She was arrested under the guise of the state’s compulsory veil law and died shortly after. The government is responsible for her death and decades of harassment, detention and harm to women under the guise of this discriminatory and inhumane law.”
Protests first erupted on Friday in Amini’s home province of Kurdistan, where Governor Ismail Zari Kosha said on Tuesday that three people had been killed in an “enemy plot”.
On Wednesday, Kurdistan Police Chief Ali Azadi announced the death of another person, according to the Tasnim news agency.
Fars news agency quoted the regional prosecutor, Shahram Karami, as saying that other protesters were “killed during the riots” in Kermanshah province, blaming “counter-revolutionary agents”.
In addition, Norway-based Kurdish human rights organization Hengaw said that two protesters, aged 16 and 23, were killed overnight in West Azerbaijan province.
The group said another 450 people were injured and 500 arrested – numbers that could not be independently verified.
A video clip circulated online showing security forces opening fire on protesters in the southern city of Shiraz, as protests continued into the early hours of the morning.
Amini’s death and Iran’s response to the protests drew condemnation from the United Nations, the United States, France and other countries. The protests are among the most serious in Iran since the November 2019 unrest over high fuel prices.
On Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kinani denounced what he described as “foreign interference stances.”
“It is unfortunate that some countries are trying to use an incident under investigation as an opportunity to achieve their political goals and desires against the government and people of Iran,” he said.
The Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) reported that Iranian Communications Minister Issa Zaribour warned, on Wednesday, of Internet restrictions, referring to “security issues these days.”
ARTICLE 19 said it was “concerned by local internet cuts,” noting that in 2019 authorities “exploited the darkness to kill, maim, and arrest protesters and passersby with impunity.”