Protests in Iran over death of woman in police custody ‘turn deadly’
Five people were killed in the Kurdish region of Iran on Monday when security forces opened fire during protests against the death of a woman in police custody, a Kurdish rights group said, on a third day of unrest over an incident that has sparked nationwide anger.
Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old from Iran’s Kurdistan province, fell into a coma and died last week after her arrest in Tehran by vice squad, sparking demonstrations in numerous areas, including the capital.
Two of the people were killed when security forces opened fire on protesters in the Kurdish city of Saqez, Amini’s hometown, the Hengaw Human Rights Organization said on Twitter.
Two others were killed in the town of Divandarreh “by direct fire” from security forces, and a fifth was killed in Dehgolan, also in the Kurdish region.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the reports.
There was no official confirmation of the dead. The official IRNA news agency said there were “limited” protests in a number of cities in seven provinces that were dispersed by police.
State television said a number of protesters had been arrested but dismissed “some claims of deaths on social media” by showing two injured youths who denied they had been murdered.
In the nationwide condemnations of Amini’s death, the Persian hashtag #MahsaAmini reached nearly 2 million Twitter mentions.
Police have said Amini fell ill while waiting with other women detained by the vice squad, which enforces strict rules in the Islamic republic requiring women to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothes in public.
But her father has repeatedly said that his daughter had no health problems, adding that she had bruises on her legs. He held the police responsible for her death.
Protests have been strongest in the Kurdish region, where authorities have previously quelled unrest by the Kurdish minority of 8 to 10 million.
Hengaw said 75 people were injured on Monday.
A video posted to Twitter by Hengaw showed protesters throwing rocks as a man was heard saying “there is a war in Divandarreh” and accused police of assaulting.
Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the video.
Internet Blocking Observatory NetBlocks on Monday reported “almost total disruption to internet connectivity in Sanandaj” – the provincial capital of the Kurdish region – and linked it to the protests, according to its Twitter account.
While Hengaw reported deadly violence by security forces in the Kurdish region, there were no immediate reports of fatalities in protests in other parts of Iran.
Videos on social media showed demonstrations in Tehran and spread to cities like Rasht, Mashhad and Isfahan.
A video shared by the 1500tasvir Twitter account, which posts images sent by its 70,000 followers, showed police cars with smashed windows in Tehran as a vehicle belonging to a nearby security forces fired water cannons at protesters.
“People who throw stones have moved on against the police. Death to the dictator!’ you hear a woman say.
It also shared images showing it was a protest at a university in Tehran against the paramilitary Basij, a militia.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the videos.
It marks some of the worst unrest in Iran since street fighting that began in late 2021 over water shortages.
The United States claimed responsibility for Amini’s death.
“The death of Mahsa Amini after injuries sustained while in police custody for wearing an ‘inappropriate’ hijab is a horrific and gross insult to human rights,” a White House spokesman said.
France condemned her arrest, “and the violence that caused her death,” the foreign ministry said, calling for a transparent investigation.
Earlier on Monday, Tehran’s chief of police, Hossein Rahimi, said “cowardly allegations” had been made against police, Amini had not suffered any physical injuries and police had “did everything” to keep her alive.
“This incident was unfortunate for us and we never want to witness such incidents,” Rahimi said.
Police have released video footage that appears to support their version of events. Reuters could not verify the video.
Violators who violate Iran’s Sharia, or Islamic law, and hijab rules face fines or arrest. But activists have recently urged women to remove veils, despite the rulers’ crackdown on “immoral behavior”. Read the full story
Amini’s death could increase tension between the establishment and the Kurdish minority.
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps has been stirring unrest in the Kurdish areas of the country for decades, and many Kurdish activists have been sentenced to long prison terms or death.