A deadly crackdown on protests in Iran sparked international alarm on Tuesday following the death of a young Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, after she was arrested by Tehran’s notorious morality police.
Amini, 22, died on Friday three days after being rushed to hospital after being arrested by police officers responsible for enforcing the dress code for Iranian women.
Activists said she suffered a blow to the head in custody but this has not been confirmed by Iranian authorities, who have opened an investigation.
The protests are among the most serious in Iran since the November 2019 demonstrations over increases in fuel prices and marked this time by the presence of large numbers of women, who sometimes removed their headscarves in defiance of the Islamic Republic’s strict laws, images on social media. show.
There were protests in Tehran but the most intense clashes so far have been in the Kurdistan province in the north of Iran where Amini is from.
The governor of the province, Ismail Zarei Koosha, confirmed the death of three people, claiming that they were “suspiciously killed” as part of a “plot by the enemy”, according to the Fars news agency.
Activists, however, say that many people have also been injured and accuse the security forces of using live fire for causing the casualties.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said witness accounts and videos circulating on social media “suggest that authorities are using terror to disperse protesters and appear to have used lethal force in Kurdistan province. “
“Cracking down with tears and lethal force against protesters demanding accountability for the death of a woman in police custody reinforces the systematic nature of government rights abuses and impunity,” said Tara Sepehri Far, HRW’s senior researcher in Iran.
In Geneva, Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif expressed his fear of Amini’s death and “the violent response of security forces to protests that followed.”
She said there must be an independent investigation into “the tragic death of Mahsa Amini and allegations of torture and ill-treatment.”
– ‘Stop more state killings’ –
The Kurdish human rights group Hengaw, based in Norway, said it confirmed a total of three deaths in Kurdistan province – one each in the towns of Divandareh, Saqqez and Dehglan.
He also said that 221 people were wounded and 250 others were arrested in the Kurdistan region, where there was also a general strike on Monday.
A 10-year-old girl – whose blood-soaked body has gone viral on social media – was injured in Bukan town but alive, he said.
Images posted on social media showed fierce clashes especially in the town of Divandareh between protesters and the security forces, with the sounds of live fire.
Protests continued on Tuesday in Kurdistan and around Tehran’s main universities and also, unusually, at Tehran’s bazaar, images showed.
Among the slogans shouted were “Death to the dictator” and “Woman, life, freedom”.
“The international community should not be silent observers of the crimes committed by the Islamic Republic against its own people,” said the director of the Iranian NGO for Human Rights (IHR) Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam.
“We call on countries that have diplomatic relations with Iran, the EU in particular, to stop further state killings by supporting the demands of the people to achieve their basic rights.”
– ‘Systematic persecution’ –
The IHR said security forces used batons, tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets and live ammunition in some regions “to directly target protesters and suppress the protests.”
Internet access monitor Netblocks noted a regional internet blackout over three hours in Kurdistan province and also partial disruptions in Tehran and other cities during Monday’s protests.
The case will add to the pressure on Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi who is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly this week where he was due to undergo a rigorous examination of Iran’s human rights record.
French President Emmanuel Macron held a rare meeting with Raisi on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to agree a deal to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
The Islamic headscarf has been compulsory in public for all women in Iran since shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution that ousted the Shah.
The rules are enforced by a special police unit called the Gasht-e Ershad (guidance patrol), which has the power to arrest women deemed to have violated the dress code, although they are usually let off with a warning.