At least 17 people have been killed in protests across Iran over the death in custody of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, but a rights group said the death toll was nearly double that.
Ms Amini, 22, died last week after she was arrested by the Islamic Republic’s morality police for allegedly wearing a headscarf “inappropriately” – news of her death sparked widespread outrage.
“Death to the Dictator” and “Women, Life, Freedom” protesters were heard screaming in a video widely circulated online during the largest wave of demonstrations to rock the country in nearly three years.
The US Treasury placed the Ethics Police on its sanctions blacklist, holding them responsible for Ms Amini’s death and citing “abuse and violence against Iranian women and violations of the rights of peaceful Iranian protesters”.
Some Iranian women have symbolically burned their scarves and cut their hair in protest of strict dress codes, in acts of defiance that have reverberated in solidarity protests from New York to Istanbul.
Local media said the official death toll had risen to at least 17, including five security personnel, but the Iranian Human Rights Organization, an Oslo-based NGO, said it had counted at least 31 civilian deaths.
CNN interview canceled due to hijab requirement
CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour said an interview with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had been scheduled, which was canceled after she rejected the president’s proposal to wear a headscarf.
Amanpour recounted a conversation with an aide of Mr. Raisi, who said that the request was made because it is the holy month of Muharram and Safar.
The veteran reporter, who has Iranian ancestry and lived there as a child, said she politely declined the proposal.
“We are in New York where there is no law or tradition regarding the headscarf,” she wrote on Twitter. “I indicated that no previous Iranian president had asked for it when I interviewed them outside Iran.”
“The aide explained that the interview wouldn’t happen if I didn’t wear the hijab. He said it was a matter of respect, and he referred to the ‘situation in Iran’ – a reference to the protests sweeping the country.”
Amanpour said she did not agree with the “unprecedented and unexpected situation”, as a result of which the interview was cancelled.
Mahmoud Amiri Moghadam, Iran’s director of human rights, 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 shot the crowds with birdshot and metal pellets, and also deployed tear gas and water cannons.
The official Iranian news agency (IRNA) said the demonstrators threw stones at them, set police cars on fire and chanted anti-government slogans.
Pictures of protesters defacing or burning pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the late commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Qassem Soleimani, showed.
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.
Dozens staged a demonstration to protest the death of a 22-year-old woman in custody in Tehran, Iran, on September 21, 2022. source: GT / (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu via Getty Images)
‘I am afraid’
There were fears that the violence could escalate further after Iran restricted internet access and banned messaging apps including WhatsApp and Instagram, as they did during 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.”
Activists said Ms. Amini, whose first Kurdish 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.
“I’m 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 “should not confront people at all.”
Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi complained of “double standards” and referred to Israeli measures in the Palestinian territories and the killing of indigenous women in Canada. source: France Press agency / (Photo by Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)
Iran complains of double standards regarding human rights
Hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was also speaking at the United Nations, complained of “double standards” and referred to Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories, the killing of indigenous women in Canada, and to the actions of US police.
But he later told reporters that Ms Amini’s death would “certainly be investigated”, confirming what the authorities had announced earlier.
Mr. Raisi’s comments came as he turned the tables on the country he was visiting for the UN General Assembly and asked about all the people killed by the US police.
“Have all of these deaths been investigated?” Raisi said at a press conference held in New York on the sidelines of the annual meeting of world leaders.
He said Ms Amini’s death “must definitely be investigated”.
“I called her family at the first opportunity, and assured them that we would continue to investigate this incident steadfastly. … Our main concern is to uphold the rights of every citizen.”
In a speech at the United Nations on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid accused Tehran’s leadership of creating a “hate orchestra” against Jews, and said Iranian 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.”
It also denounced what it described as “the psychological process and the excessive media war” during the protests, which it said began “on the pretext of killing a citizen.”
Iran’s Islamic Development Coordination Council announced a rally to support headscarves and conservative dress for women on Friday, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
The Iranian news agency said that demonstrations would be held across Iran “to denounce the inappropriate actions” of those who insulted Islam and the nation, destroyed public property, undermined public security and “desecrated the veil of women.”