Protests against the death of a woman over Iran's hijab rule have spread to at least 12 cities, killing nine protesters in clashes with security forces.
Thousands have risen in protests across Iran against the death of a 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last week. Mahsa was detained and then allegedly beaten by Iran's morality police for violating the country's hijab rule. She later died in a hospital. Women in Iran are required to wear hijab —head coverings— under conservative religious rules imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran.
Following Mahsa's death, thousands of people have taken to the streets and women have been filmed burning their hijabs and cutting their hair in public in defiance of the country's hijab rule and other strict dress codes for women and in protest to the custodial daeth of Mahsa.
The scope of Iran's ongoing unrest, the worst in several years, still remains unclear as protesters in at least a dozen cities —venting anger over social repression and the country's mounting crises— continue to encounter security and paramilitary forces. An anchor on Iran's state television suggested the death toll from the mass protests could be as high as 17 on Thursday, but did not elaborate or say how he reached that figure. "Unfortunately, 17 people and police officers present at the scene of these events lost their lives," the anchor said, adding official statistics would be released later.
People calling for 'death to the dictator'
The police said Mahsa died of a heart attack and was not mistreated, but her family has cast doubt on that account. Independent experts affiliated with the United Nations said Thursday that reports suggested she was severely beaten by the morality police, without offering evidence. They called for an impartial investigation to hold perpetrators accountable.
People have poured onto streets in protests against Mahsa's death. The protests have grown in the last four days into an open challenge to the government, with women removing and burning their state-mandated headscarves in the streets and Iranians setting trash bins ablaze and calling for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself.
"Death to the dictator!" has been a common cry in the protests.
Unprecedented scenes in Iran: woman sits on top of utility box and cuts her hair in main square in Kerman to protest death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the morality police. People clap their hands and chant “Death to the dictator.” #مهسا_امینی pic.twitter.com/2oyuKV80Ac— Golnaz Esfandiari (@GEsfandiari) September 20, 2022
Demonstrations have rocked university campuses in Tehran and far flung western cities such as Kermanshah. Although widespread, the unrest appears distinct from earlier rounds of nationwide protests triggered by pocketbook issues as Iran's economy staggers under heavy US sanctions.
The clashes have left a trail of destruction. In the province of Mazandaran, along the coast of the Caspian Sea, angry crowds damaged or set fire to over 40 government properties and injured 76 security officers, Rouhollah Solgi, the deputy governor, said Thursday.
Iran's hijab rules, dress code for women
Women are required to wear hijab —head coverings— in Iran.
Besides hijab, women are required to wear long-loose fitting clothes that cover their body. A government body, commonly called the 'morality police' enforces these laws under the belief that dressing such is the moral responsibility of women as per the religious belifs of the Islamic state.
Men and women are also prevented from mingling in public under these rules.
The BBC reported, "Officers [of morality police] have the power to stop women and assess whether they are showing too much hair; their trousers and overcoats are too short or close-fitting; or they are wearing too much make-up. Punishments for violating the rules include a fine, prison or flogging."
In a country where women's life so regulated, scenes of women publicly burning their hijab and being in public without hijab are extreme acts of defiance.
These women in #Iran’s northern city of Sari are dancing and burning their headscarves… anti-regime protests have now spread to dozens of cities from north to south, east to west… all triggered by the death of #MahsaAmini while in the custody of Iran’s morality police. pic.twitter.com/BBDvgC5L1w— Rana Rahimpour (@ranarahimpour) September 20, 2022
Protests unlike previous ones
The unrest that erupted in 2019 over the government's abrupt gasoline price hike mobilised working class masses in small towns. Hundreds were killed as security forces cracked down, according to human rights groups, the deadliest violence since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
This time, protests are more diverse in terms of participants and are trigerred by the regressive religious norms imposed by the clergy-run Iran. This is more of a social protest rather than an economic protest, and women and their rights are central to it.
Women of Iran-Saghez removed their headscarves in protest against the murder of Mahsa Amini 22 Yr old woman by hijab police and chanting:— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) September 17, 2022
death to dictator!
Removing hijab is a punishable crime in Iran. We call on women and men around the world to show solidarity. #مهسا_امینی pic.twitter.com/ActEYqOr1Q
The extent of protests in Iran
Iran's state-run media this week reported demonstrations of hundreds of people in at least 13 cities, including the capital, Tehran. Videos online show security forces firing tear gas and water canons to disperse the protests. London-based Amnesty International reported that officers also fired birdshot and metal pellets and beat protesters with batons.
Footage on social media from the northern city of Tabriz shows a young man allegedly shot by security forces bleeding out in the street as protesters shouted for help.At least nine people have died in the confrontations, according to an AP count based on statements from Iran's state-run and semiofficial media. In a statement on Thursday, the Guard blamed the unrest on “Iran's enemies,” saying their "sedition will fail.”
To the world who still don’t know that in Iran #WalkingUnveiled is a punishable crime. Yes these— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) September 19, 2022
women who removed their hijab can get jailed, beaten & kicked out from job. But like the women's suffrage movement, Iranian women making history.#مهسا_امینی pic.twitter.com/pu3uUA1teM
In Mahsa's home province in the northwest, Kurdistan, the provincial police chief said four protesters were killed by live fire. In Kermanshah, the prosecutor said two protesters were killed by opposition groups, insisting that the bullets were not fired by Iran's security forces.
Some demonstrators appear to have targeted security forces. Three men affiliated with the Basij, a volunteer force under the Guard, were killed in clashes in the cities of Shiraz, Tabriz and Mashhad, semiofficial media reported, bringing the death toll acknowledged by officials to at least nine on both sides.
In Mashhad, the state-run IRNA agency reported that a policeman was hospitalized with severe burns after protesters tried to set him on fire.
The independent experts with the U.N. said the clashes have killed at least eight people by their count, including a woman and 16-year-old boy, with dozens more injured and arrested.
Iran protests spread, death toll rises as internet curbed.— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) September 22, 2022
On 2019 protests when Iran’s regime cut off the Internet,1500 people got killed.
Now again regime imposed severe Internet restrictions.These are some people being injured & killed for protesting the murder of #MahsaAmini pic.twitter.com/JmhUMt29F2
As the protests spread, authorities shut down the internet in parts of the country, according to NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors internet access, describing the restrictions as the most severe since the mass protests of November 2019.
Crackdown on social media, messaging apps
Widespread outages of Instagram and WhatsApp, which protesters use to share information about the government's rolling crackdown on dissent, continued on Thursday. Authorities also appeared to disrupt internet access to the outside world, a tactic that rights activists say the government often employs in times of unrest.
In a country where radio and television stations already are state-controlled and journalists regularly face the threat of arrest, the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard urged the judiciary on Thursday to prosecute "anyone who spreads fake news and rumors" on social media about the unrest.
(With AP inputs)