Protesters across Iran continued to clash violently with security forces early Friday after the death of a young woman taken into custody. Iranian state television suggested the death toll from the unrest could rise to 26, without giving details.
While the scale of the protests in a dozen Iranian cities and towns remains unclear, the movement, in response to the death of Mahsa Amini last week after she was arrested by the country’s vice squad, represents the biggest unrest since 2019, when human rights groups said. hundreds of people were killed in a violent crackdown.
Iran has also disrupted internet access to the outside world, according to internet traffic monitor Netblocks, tightening restrictions on popular platforms used to host rallies such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
The US Treasury Department issued guidelines Friday for expanding the number of internet services available to Iranians, despite US sanctions against the country. Officials said the move would help Iranians access tools that could be used to circumvent state surveillance and censorship, but would not completely prevent Tehran from using means of communication to suppress dissent.
26 people reportedly dead
A state television host said late Thursday that 26 protesters and police officers had been killed since protests broke out last Saturday after the funeral of Amini, 22, without explaining how authorities arrived at that number. He said official statistics would be released later, but in times of unrest, the Iranian government has not offered official death tolls.
At least 11 people have been killed in the unrest, according to a tally by The The Switzerland Times, based on statements from state and semi-official media. Recently, Qazvin’s deputy governor, Abolhasan Kabiri, said a civilian and a paramilitary officer had been killed in the unrest that rocked two cities in the northwestern province.
The crisis unfolding in Iran began as a public outcry over the death of Amini, a young woman from a northwestern Kurdish city who was arrested last week by the country’s vice squad in Tehran for allegedly violating the strict dress code.
Police said she died of a heart attack and was not assaulted, but her family has questioned that.
Amini’s death has drawn strong condemnation from Western countries and the United Nations, and has struck a national nerve.
Hundreds of Iranians in at least 13 cities, from the capital Tehran to Saqez, Amini’s northwestern Kurdish hometown, have taken to the streets expressing anger at social and political repression. Authorities have claimed that unnamed foreign countries and opposition groups are trying to stir up unrest.
“Death has tapped into wider anti-government sentiment in the Islamic Republic and especially women’s frustration,” political risk firm Eurasia Group wrote, noting that Iran’s hardliners have intensified their crackdown on women’s clothing over the past year since the former chief justice Ebrahim Raisi became president.
“In the cold calculus of Iranian leaders … a stronger response is required to quell the unrest.”
Thousands of people around the world are protesting in solidarity with Iranians angry over Amini’s death, including in cities across Canada. Protesters also marched in London and Berlin.
Violent protests and counter-protest in Iran
Protesters in Tehran can be seen setting fire to a police car and confronting officers on social media. Elsewhere in the capital, videos show gunshots sounding as riot police protesters run away screaming, “They’re shooting people! Oh my God, they’re killing people!”
In the northwestern city of Neyshabur, protesters cheered an overturned police car. Footage from Tehran and Mashhad shows women in their compulsory hijab head coverings waving flags in the air like ‘Freedom!’ scan.
The scenes of women cutting their hair and burning their hijabs fuel a wider political debate about the role of religious restrictions in a modern republic — questions that have plagued the Islamic Republic since its founding in 1979.
But the protests have also become an open challenge to the government. The chants were scathing, and some called for the downfall of the ruling clergy. The protesters shout: “Death to the dictator!” and “Mullahs must be gone!”
As a sign of the test the protest movement imposed on the government, hardline groups staged a counter-demonstration in Tehran on Friday.
Thousands of women in traditional black chadors and men dressed in the style of the Basij, a volunteer force under the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, took to the streets after Friday prayers to express their anger at the unrest, state news agency IRNA reported.
“Death to America!”, “Death to Israel!” and “America’s mercenaries are at war with religion!” they chanted.
Iran’s intelligence ministry on Friday warned citizens not to participate in “illegal” street rallies and threatened prosecution. Local officials have announced the arrest of dozens of protesters.
Hasan Hosseinpour, deputy police chief in the northern province of Gilan, said 211 people were arrested on Friday. The government of the western province of Hamadan said 58 protesters had been arrested.
The University of Tehran announced it would move classes online in the coming week amid the unrest, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
London watchdog Amnesty International has accused security forces of beating protesters with batons and firing metal bullets at close range. Videos show police and paramilitary officers using live fire, tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrations.
Iran has experienced waves of protests in the recent past, mainly because of a protracted economic crisis exacerbated by US sanctions over its nuclear program.
In November 2019, the country saw the deadliest violence since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when protests erupted against a rise in the state-controlled price of gasoline.
LISTENING | Protests are spreading around the world:
The current23:46Protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, who was detained by Iran’s vice squad