At least 17 people have been killed in protests across Iran over the death in custody of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, but a human rights group said the death toll was nearly double.
Ms. Amini, 22, died last week after being arrested by the Islamic Republic’s moral police for wearing a hijab veil in an “improper” manner – the news of her death sparked widespread outrage.
“Death to the dictator” and “woman, life, freedom,” protesters were heard shouting in footage shared widely online during the largest wave of demonstrations that rocked the country in nearly three years.
The US Treasury Department has included the moral police on its sanctions blacklist, holding them responsible for Ms. Amini’s death and citing “the abuse and violence against Iranian women and the violation of the rights of peaceful Iranian protesters.”
Some Iranian women burned their scarves and symbolically cut their hair to protest the strict dress code, in provocative actions that echoed solidarity protests from New York to Istanbul.
The official death toll has risen to at least 17, including five security personnel, according to local media, but Iran Human Rights, a non-governmental organization based in Oslo, said it had counted at least 31 deaths among the civilians.
CNN interview canceled due to headscarf requirement
CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour said she was scheduled to conduct an interview with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, which was canceled after she rejected the president’s suggestion to wear a headscarf.
Amanpour recounted a conversation with an assistant to Mr. Raisi, who said the request was made because it was the holy months of Muharram and Safar.
The veteran journalist, who has Iranian origins and lived there as a child, said she politically rejected the suggestion.
“We are in New York, where there is no law or tradition regarding the headscarf. I pointed out that no previous Iranian president requested it when I interviewed them outside Iran,” he tweeted.
“The assistant clarified that the interview would not have taken place if I had not worn the veil. He said it was ‘a matter of respect’ and referred to the ‘situation in Iran’, alluding to the protests that are sweeping the country” .
Amanpour said he could not agree with the “unprecedented and unexpected condition” and the interview was canceled as a result.
The Iranians have mobilized “to achieve their fundamental rights and human dignity … and the government is responding to their peaceful protest with bullets,” said Iran’s human rights director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam.
Security forces shot the crowd with shot and metal pellets, and also deployed tear gas and water cannons, Amnesty International and other human rights groups said.
Protesters threw stones at them, set fire to police cars and chanted anti-government slogans, the official IRNA news agency said.
The images showed protesters defacing or burning images of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the late Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani.
Authorities on Thursday arrested two photographers, Niloufar Hamedi, of the reformist daily Shargh, and Yalda Moayeri, who works for the local press, as well as activist Mohammad-Reza Jalaipour, Iranian media reported.
Dozens of people organize a demonstration to protest the death of a 22-year-old woman in custody in Tehran, Iran, on September 21, 2022. sources: Getty / (Photo by Stringer / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
It was feared that the violence could escalate further after Iran restricted internet access and blocked messaging apps including WhatsApp and Instagram, as they have done during past crackdowns.
The two apps were the most used in Iran after authorities blocked other platforms in recent years, including Facebook and Twitter.
“People in Iran are being cut off from apps and online services,” tweeted Instagram chief Adam Mosseri, adding that “we hope their right to be online is restored quickly.”
Activists said Ms. Amini, whose Kurdish name is Jhina, suffered a fatal blow to the head after her arrest in Tehran, a claim that officials have denied.
Iranian women on the streets of Tehran told AFP that they were now more careful about their clothing to avoid confrontations with the moral police.
“I’m scared,” said Nazanin, a 23-year-old nurse who asked to be identified by her name just for security reasons, adding that she believed the moral police “shouldn’t deal with people at all.”
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi complained of a “double standard” and pointed to Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories and the deaths of indigenous women in Canada. sources: AFP / (Photo by ED JONES / AFP via Getty Images)
Iran complains of double standards on human rights
The ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, also speaking to the UN, complained of a “double standard” and pointed to Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories and the deaths of indigenous women in Canada, and the actions of the US police.
But he later told reporters that Ms. Amini’s death “will certainly be investigated,” confirming a previous announcement by the authorities.
Raisi’s comments came when he turned the tide on the country he was visiting for the UN General Assembly and asked for information on all the people killed by the US police.
“Have all these deaths been investigated?” Raisi said this at a press conference held in New York on the sidelines of the annual meeting of world leaders.
He said Ms. Amini’s death “certainly needs to be investigated.”
“I contacted his family at the earliest opportunity and assured them that we would continue to firmly investigate that incident. … Our utmost concern is the safeguarding of the rights of every citizen.”
In a speech to the United Nations on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid accused the Tehran leadership of conducting a “hate orchestra” against Jews and claimed that Iranian ideologues “hate and kill Muslims who think differently, such as Salman Rushdie and Mahsa Amini “.
The protests are among the most serious in Iran since November 2019 unrest sparked by a sharp rise in gasoline prices. The crackdown then killed hundreds of people, according to Amnesty.
The unrest comes at a particularly sensitive time for the leadership, as the Iranian economy remains mired in a crisis largely caused by sanctions on its nuclear program.
The powerful Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has labeled the protests as an “enemy conspiracy” and “a vain attempt doomed to failure”, while praising the “efforts and sacrifices of the police”.
He also denounced what he called “the psychological operation and the excessive media war” during the protests that would have started “under the pretext of the death of one of his compatriots”.
A demonstration in support of the hijab and a conservative dress code for women was announced for Friday by the Iranian Islamic Development Coordination Council, IRNA reported.
Demonstrations would take place all over Iran, the news agency said, “to condemn the indecent actions” of those who insulted Islam and the nation, destroyed public property, undermined public security and “desecrated the country. ‘women’s hijab “.