Iranian state media acknowledged on Thursday that at least 17 people were killed in anti-government protests that spread across the country. The uproar was sparked by the death of a woman detained by the country’s “morality police”, apparently because she did not cover her hair as required by Iran’s strict Islamic laws.
One charity operating in Iran put the death toll higher, at 31, but CBS News was unable to verify the figure.
Morality police, tasked with enforcing Iran’s strict Islamic dress code and other religious dictates, arrested 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last week while her family was visiting the capital, Tehran.
The special unit accused her of wearing “inappropriate attire”. She died in custody after three days, with officials saying she suffered a heart attack. Critics believe she was beaten after an image of her bruised, bleeding and intubated body surfaced.
“Iranian women, under the law imposed in 1981 after the [Islamic] revolutionaries, cover their hair and dress modestly,” Dr. Sanam Vakil, a Middle East policy expert and Iran specialist at the Chatham House think tank in London, told CBS News. “For the past 40 years, women from Iran is pushing back against this mandatory concealment requirement, and there are morality police policing the streets, bringing in women, punishing them.”
Amini’s death sparked the biggest protests in Iran since at least 2019, when public anger over skyrocketing gas prices drew large crowds into the streets.
These new protests have spread from Iran’s Kurdistan region, where Amini lived, to at least 50 cities and towns across the country, according to the human rights watchdog and other opposition groups operating in Iran. .
The governor of Kurdistan, Ismail Zareikosha, said earlier this week that three people had been killed in his province, but insisted that Iranian security forces were not responsible, blaming “enemies of Iran.”
Internet access was cut in parts of the country on Thursday, a day after Iran’s Communications Minister Issa Zarepour warned that such a step could be taken amid protests.
“Due to security issues and the current debates in the country, the security apparatus may determine and implement restrictions on the internet, but overall we have no bandwidth reduction,” said the semi-official Zarepour. ISNA news agency.
Opposition broadcaster Manoto TV claimed that Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, removed a large number of videos from its Instagram page related to the protests. The company also said Instagram had removed a video message from Reza Pahlavi, Iran’s former crown prince in exile, addressing the protesters.
During the 2019 protests, before government security forces cracked down, internet access was slowed or cut off. As of Thursday, videos and images of demonstrations and protests were still being uploaded on social media, showing people destroying symbols of government authority, including police cars and water cannon trucks, and images of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei to defame.
Some women have protested by removing their headscarves in public and burning them on bonfires. Others have their hair cut in public, in front of crowds.
“It shows the level of public anger. People are fed up, and going for it,” Vakil, of Chatham House, told CBS News. “This is the generation of Iranians who are pushing back.”