Protests flared up again in Iran on Saturday over the death of a woman held in police custody despite a crackdown by security forces that killed at least 41 people, official figures say.
Iran’s main reformist party called for the repeal of the mandatory Islamic dress code that Mahsa Amini had violated as protests over her death entered their ninth night.
Web monitor NetBlocks reported that Skype was now restricted in Iran, as part of a crackdown on communications already targeting the latest accessible international platforms Instagram, WhatsApp and LinkedIn.
Hundreds of angry protesters have been arrested, as have reformist activists and journalists.
Amini, 22, was pronounced dead after being in a coma for three days following her arrest by vice squad.
State television said the death toll had risen to 41. It broadcast images of “rioters” on the streets in northern and western Tehran, as well as in “some provinces”, and said they had set fire to public and private properties.
The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group estimated the death toll at 54, not counting security personnel. It said authorities had in many cases made the return of bodies to families conditional on their consent to secret burials.
The group said most of the deaths were in the Caspian Sea provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran.
Waves of arrests have been reported, with Gilan’s police chief announcing “the arrest of 739 rioters, including 60 women,” in that province alone.
According to videos posted on social media, protests broke out again on Saturday night in the provincial capital of Gilan, Rasht and in various parts of Tehran.
Anti-riot police deployed in northern Tehran in large numbers after nightfall, witnesses told AFP.
A viral video, supposedly from Saturday night, showed a woman defiantly waving her headscarf over her head as she walked down the middle of a street in Tehran.
Security forces have also arrested reformist activists and journalists, with Sherif Mansour of the US-based media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reporting that 17 had been detained since the protests began.
Among them Niloufar Hamedi of the reformist newspaper Shargh, who reported on Amini’s death.
Militia bases attacked
Elsewhere, Norway-based Kurdish rights group Hengaw said protesters “took control” of parts of the city of Oshnaviyeh, in West Azerbaijan province.
Iran’s judiciary said “rioters attacked three Basij bases” in Oshnaviyeh, referring to the state-sanctioned Islamist militia. But it denied that the security forces had lost control of the city.
Ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to deal “decisively” with those behind the violence in a telephone conversation with the family of a Basij militia killed in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
His comment came after Amnesty International warned of “the risk of further bloodshed amid a deliberately imposed internet outage”.
The London-based human rights group said the evidence it gathered in 20 cities pointed to “a harrowing pattern of Iranian security forces deliberately and unlawfully firing live ammunition at protesters”.
Amini died on September 16 after her arrest by Iran’s vice squad, a unit responsible for enforcing the Islamic republic’s strict women’s dress code.
According to activists, she was hit on the head while in custody, but this has not been confirmed by the Iranian authorities, who have launched an investigation.
Iran’s main reformist group, the Islamic People’s Party of Iran, called for the repeal of the mandatory dress code and the phasing out of the vice squad.
The party, which is led by former aides to reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami who oversaw a thaw with the West between 1997 and 2005, also called on the government to “allow peaceful demonstrations” and release those detained. .
‘Do not hit’
Thousands took part in government-backed counter-actions in defense of the dress code on Friday.
Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi insisted Amini had not been beaten. He said Iran is still investigating the cause of her death, adding: “We have to wait for the coroner’s final verdict, which will take time”.
Amnesty rejected the Iranian investigation and called on the world to take “meaningful action” against the bloody crackdown.
“UN member states must go beyond toothless statements, hear the calls for justice from victims and human rights defenders in Iran and urgently establish an independent UN investigation mechanism,” said Heba Morayef, director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Iran has imposed strict restrictions on the use of the internet to hinder the gathering of protesters and allow the flow of images of the resistance to reach the outside world.
The United States announced Friday that it is easing export restrictions on Iran to expand internet services for its people.