(Bloomberg) — Violence erupted in Iran’s capital and three were killed in the northwestern province of Kurdistan as security forces countered the country’s biggest public response to the country’s dress code for women since the 1979 revolution that ushered in the laws. went.
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Riot police used water cannons and fired tear gas to disperse crowds in Tehran after hundreds of protesters clashed with security forces on Monday. The outburst of public anger was sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who fell into a coma and died after being detained by the ‘morality police’ for her clothing last week.
Three were killed during protests in Kurdistan, the Islamic Republic’s state-run News Agency reported, citing the governor of the province who suggested “terrorist groups” were responsible for the deaths. Authorities often refer to protesters as agitators and terrorists. Clashes broke out over the weekend in Amini’s hometown of Saghez in Kurdistan, where she was buried on Saturday.
There were also rallies at major universities in Tehran, Tasnim reported, while unconfirmed reports and video footage showed demonstrations had spread to other cities, including Tabriz and Hamedan.
Videos on social media showed protesters chanting ‘death to the dictator’, ‘women, life, freedom’ and ‘I will kill everyone who killed my sister’ against a backdrop of armed cops and black police vans. Some clips show members of the public taking revenge on members of a voluntary, plainclothes militia led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, often deployed to infiltrate and sometimes violently break into protests.
Other footage included a woman standing on the hood of a car and setting her headscarf on fire, as well as a burning dumpster and a police motorcycle in flames. The videos could not be independently verified by Bloomberg.
The unrest is one of the most violent protests in Iran since the November 2019 protests over fuel prices, and it comes as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi — a cleric who has spent much of his career helping define Islamist laws of the land – his first physical appearance at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
He will be joined by Iran’s foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator, who is expected to meet diplomats on the sidelines to break the latest deadlock facing talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
Amini’s death is likely to overshadow Raisi’s visit to the UN as the chorus of voices condemning the incident grows louder. On Tuesday, acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif, urged an impartial investigation.
Earlier, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a tweet: “Mahsa Amini should be alive today. Instead, the United States and the Iranian people mourn her. We call on the Iranian government to end the systematic persecution of women and to allow peaceful protest.”
In a statement, Tehran police said Amini suffered “heart failure” on Friday while in a coma after being detained by officers from the city’s so-called morality unit.
Police Chief General Hossein Rahimi called her death an “unfortunate incident” and ruled out any misconduct by his staff, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. The Iranian parliament has said it has launched an investigation and wants to reform the laws governing how vice squads are used and deployed.
Donya-e-Eqtesad newspaper quoted Amini’s father, Amjad Amini, as saying she had no pre-existing illness when she was detained. He accused the authorities of beating her and then covering up their actions. “We are not letting her blood go in vain,” the newspaper told him.
Iran’s morality police are cracking down on clothing that they believe violates Islamic codes. But critics say their approach is arbitrary and that they embody the government’s efforts to impose harsh religious beliefs on women and girls. The units have been widely hated for years and are often criticized by reformists, public figures and moderate clergy.
The internet was disrupted in parts of Kurdistan province as the protests took place, digital watchdog group NetBlocks said. Residents near the demonstrations and in Tehran also reported connectivity issues. Internet outages during times of protest in Iran are common, and internet access was banned completely in November 2019 when widespread protests over fuel prices turned deadly.
Tehran’s police chief Rahimi said Amini had been arrested because her “leggings were problematic,” according to comments published in Iran’s leading reformist newspaper, Shargh.
Since the 1979 revolution, women in Iran have been subject to mandatory Islamic dress codes that prescribe a “chador” – a black cloak that wraps the body from head to toe – or long, loose-fitting overcoats and tightly worn headscarves.
Over the years, however, enforcement of the rules has fluctuated and women have gradually pushed the boundaries of what is permissible. Especially in urban centers, loose headscarves and leggings with oversized robes are common — similar to the clothes Amini appeared to be wearing in CCTV footage shot inside the police station and broadcast on state television.
The morality police, which patrol cities with minibuses that mainly seize young people and women on the streets, have stepped up their activities since Raisi’s election last year. Security forces have increasingly pushed back against public expressions of dissent since early 2018, when several women were arrested for taking off their headscarves in public.
Authorities are already using license plate recognition to target female drivers deemed insufficiently veiled and have announced plans to introduce facial recognition software to more forcefully prosecute women.
(Updates with protests turning deadly in the first and third paragraphs)
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