At least eight people were killed on Wednesday in a crackdown on protests in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini after the young woman was arrested by vice squad, according to a combined toll.
Public anger has flared in the Islamic republic since authorities announced on Friday the death of 22-year-old Amini, who had been detained for wearing a hijab headscarf in an “inappropriate” manner.
Activists said the woman, whose Kurdish first name is Jhina, received a fatal blow to the head, a claim denied by officials who have announced an investigation.
Some female protesters have defiantly removed their hijabs and burned them in bonfires or symbolically cut their hair before cheering on the crowd, according to video footage that went viral on social media.
“No to the headscarf, no to the turban, yes to freedom and equality!” protesters in Tehran chanted at a rally that was followed by solidarity protests abroad, including in New York and Istanbul.
Iranian state media reported on Wednesday that during a fifth night of street rallies that had spread 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 about reports of the unlawful use of force by Iranian police and security forces,” including the use of live ammunition.
Protesters threw rocks at security forces, set fire to police vehicles and garbage cans and chanted anti-government slogans, the official IRNA news agency said, adding that demonstrations were held in cities such as Mashhad, Tabriz, Isfahan and Shiraz.
“Death to the dictator” and “Woman, Life, Freedom” protesters were heard in video footage that spread outside of Iran, despite online restrictions reported by internet access monitor Netblocks.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke publicly on Wednesday without mentioning the spreading unrest, before ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi began addressing the UN General Assembly in New York.
Also at the UN, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told TSWT that “Iranian leadership should see that the people are not satisfied with the direction they have gone. There is another path they can take.”
– ‘Significant shock’ –
The wave of protests over Amini’s death “is a very big shock, it is a social crisis,” said Iran expert David Rigoulet-Roze of the French Institute of International and Strategic Affairs.
“It is difficult to know the outcome, but there is a gap between the authorities with their TSWT from the 1979 Islamic revolution and an increasingly secularized society.
“It is a very social project that is being questioned. There is a hesitation on the part of the authorities about the way forward regarding this movement.”
The first protests broke out in Amini’s home province of Kurdistan on Friday, where Governor Ismail Zarei Koosha said three people had been killed in “a plot by the enemy” on Tuesday.
Kurdish police commander Ali Azadi announced the death of another person on Wednesday, according to Tasnim news agency.
Two more protesters “were killed in the riots” in Kermanshah province, the region’s prosecutor Shahram Karami said, according to the Fars news agency, blaming “counter-revolutionary agents”.
In addition, Norway-based Kurdish rights group Hengaw said two protesters aged 16 and 23 were killed overnight in West Azerbaijan province.
Another 450 people were injured and 500 arrested, the group said — figures that could not be independently verified.
– ‘Enemy plot’ –
Video circulated online showing security forces opening fire on protesters in the southern city of Shiraz, where protests continued into the early hours.
Amini’s death and Iran’s response to the protests have led to condemnation from the United Nations, the United States, France and other countries.
The protests are among the most serious in Iran since November 2019 over the unrest over fuel price increases.
State Department spokesman Nasser Kanani on Tuesday condemned what he called “foreign interventionist views”.
“It is regrettable that some countries are trying to take advantage of an incident under investigation as an opportunity to pursue their political goals and aspirations against the government and people of Iran,” he said.
Iran’s Telecommunications Minister Issa Zarepour warned of internet restrictions on Wednesday, citing “security concerns these days,” according to the ISNA news agency.
Article 19 said it was “alarmed by the local internet shutdowns”, recalling that in 2019 authorities had “used the darkness of a shutdown to kill, maim and arrest protesters and bystanders with impunity”.