As Iran reeled from the death of a woman after its “morality police” arrested her, the Sunday front page of Asia’s financial newspaper announced: “Dear Mahsa, your name will become a symbol.”
The police unit – which is responsible for enforcing Iran’s strict dress code for women, particularly the wearing of the headscarf in public – had already faced increased criticism in recent months for its excessive use out of force.
The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini has led to calls for an end to his actions against women suspected of violating the dress code, in fact since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The day after her funeral, almost every Iranian press devoted their front pages to her story on Sunday.
“The nation has expressed its grief over the sad death of Mahsa,” said the front page of the ultra-conservative newspaper Jáv.
Originally from the northwestern province of Kurdistan, Amini was visiting her family in the capital Tehran when she was detained on Tuesday.
She was pronounced dead on state television on Friday after spending three days in a coma. Shortly after, a crowd gathered outside the Kasra hospital in central Tehran.
In her hometown of Saghez, where her body was laid to rest on Saturday, some residents threw stones at the governor’s office and chanted slogans against the authorities, according to the Fars news agency.
“What happened to Mahsa Amini is extremely sad and scary for the people,” noted the reformist publication Etemad, saying the country had suffered “numerous cases of violence by the morality police”.
The moderate Jomhouri-e Eslami daily warned against “social fragmentation” fueled by the “violent behavior” of the unit’s officers.
– The conservatives are pushing back –
President Ebrahim Raisi, an ultra-conservative former judiciary chief who came to power last year, has ordered an inquiry into Amini’s death.
The official state news agency IRNA reported on Sunday that Raisi promised the family in a phone call that he would follow up on the case, telling them “your daughter is like my daughter and I think this incident happened to one of my relatives own.”
However, some of the more conservative media tried to push back against the barrage of criticism.
Iran’s government-run daily newspaper accused reformers of “exploiting public opinion by using an unfortunate incident to incite the nation against the government and the president”.
One ultra-conservative newspaper, Kayhan, claimed that “the amount of rumors and lies spread has greatly increased after Mahsa’s death.”
“However, the publication of images of this incident by the police prevented opportunists from exploiting it,” the publication argued.
He referred to a short video from a surveillance camera broadcast on state television on Friday, which shows her falling to the ground inside a large hall full of women while arguing with one of the female instructors about clothes.
In a statement on Friday, Tehran police insisted that “there was no physical contact” between officers and Amini.
The head of Tehran’s medical examiner’s office said on state television that investigations into the cause of death would take up to three weeks to complete.
– 1.5 million tweets –
Filmmakers, artists, athletes, and political and religious figures have taken to social media to express their anger against the morality police, both inside and outside the country.
Former president and reformer Mohammad Khatami called on the authorities to “end actions against law, logic and sharia”, or Islamic law, and “bring the perpetrators to justice”.
Grand Ayatollah Assadollah Bayat Zanjani, a cleric seen close to the reformers, condemned what he said were “illegitimate” and “illegal” actions behind this “regrettable incident”.
“The Koran clearly forbids the use of force” to enforce religious and moral values, he said.
Asghar Farhadi, a two-time Oscar-winning film director, said that “Mahsa is more alive now than we are” because “we are silent in the face of endless cruelty. We are complicit in this crime.”
“Our girls’ hair is covered with a mask,” wrote several footballers on the Iranian national team in a joint story they shared on Instagram.
“If these are Muslims, may God make me an infidel,” charged Sardar Azmoun, who plays for the German club Bayer Leverkusen.
On Twitter, the hash-tag #Masha_Amini had racked up nearly 1.5 million tweets by midday on Sunday.