Iranian authorities say at least three people have been killed as protests raged for a fourth straight day across the country Tuesday over the death of a young woman in police custody.
The death last week of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by morality police for “unsuitable attire” after allegedly wearing the hijab improperly, unleashed a flood of simmering anger over numerous issues including rights, security and an economy reeling from international sanctions.
Amini fell into a coma and died while waiting with other women held by the morality police, who enforce strict rules in the Islamic Republic requiring women to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothes in public. Her father said she had no health problems and that she suffered bruises to her legs in custody and holds the police responsible for her death.
Demonstrations broke out in Kurdistan, where Amini was from, and spread on Monday and Tuesday to several other provinces in northwestern Iran.
Late on Tuesday, state media reported “limited rallies” in several cities where it said demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans, threw rocks at police vehicles and damaged public property.
Human rights group Hengaw said three people were killed in Kurdistan on Monday after security forces opened fire. The governor of Kurdistan province said the deaths were suspicious and blamed unspecified terrorist groups.
UN calls for independent investigation
A top United Nations official on Tuesday demanded an independent investigation into Amini’s death.
“Mahsa Amini’s tragic death and allegations of torture and ill treatment must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by an independent, competent authority,” said Nada al-Nashif, the acting UN high commissioner for human rights.
The UN Human Rights Office said Iran’s morality police have expanded their patrols in recent months, targeting women for not properly wearing the Islamic headscarf, known as hijab. It said verified videos show women being slapped in the face, struck with batons and thrown into police vans for wearing the hijab too loosely.
🇮🇷#Iran: Acting UN Human Rights Chief calls for investigation into ‘s death in custody following her arrest for what was perceived to be “improper” hijab. @NadaNashif also condemns the violent response by security forces to ensuing protests.
👉 https://t.co/S9Yxr46Ffk pic.twitter.com/Q5pPkKCoXY
Iranian police have denied mistreating Amini and say she died of a heart attack. Authorities say they are investigating the incident.
“This incident was unfortunate for us and we wish to never witness such incidents,” Hossein Rahimi, Tehran police commander, said Monday.
The police released closed-circuit video footage last week purportedly showing the moment Amini collapsed, but her family says she had no history of heart trouble.
In an apparent effort to defuse tensions, an aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei paid condolences to Amini’s family, saying that Khamenei was affected and pained by her death.
Countries condemn death, morality police
Protests over Amini’s death have spread to other countries, including Canada, with a rally held in Toronto on Tuesday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Canada’s government was following the protests closely. Speaking to reporters in New York on Tuesday, where she is attending the United Nations General Assembly, Joly called for “a full and complete investigation into the regime’s actions” in relation to Amini’s death.
Other Western governments have demanded accountability for Amini’s death, at the same time as Washington and a number of European countries hope to negotiate a new agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, after then-president Donald Trump pulled the US out of the previous deal.
“Mahsa Amini should be alive today,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “We call on the Iranian government to end its systemic persecution of women and to allow peaceful protest.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian rejected the criticism, accusing the US of “shedding crocodile tears.”
“To Iran, human rights are of inherent value — unlike those who see it [as] a tool against adversaries,” he tweeted.
France condemned Amini’s arrest “and the violence that caused her death,” the foreign ministry said, calling for a transparent investigation.
Amjad Amini, her father, told an Iranian news website that witnesses saw her being shoved into a police car.
“I asked for access to [videos] from cameras inside the car as well as the courtyard of the police station, but they gave no answer,” he said. He also accused the police of not transferring her to the hospital promptly enough, saying she could have been resuscitated.
Iranian Kurds angered
Amini’s death could raise tension between the establishment and the Kurdish minority. Protests erupted in Amini’s home city of Saqez in western Iran on Saturday after her funeral. Police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators on Saturday and Sunday.
News outlets reported that dozens of protesters were arrested in multiple cities.
State TV showed footage of protests on Monday, including images of two police cars with their windows smashed. It said the protesters torched two motorbikes as well, and that they burned Iranian flags in Kurdish areas and in Tehran.
Minority Kurds, mainly Sunni Muslims in Shia-dominated Iran, live mostly in a mountainous region straddling the borders of Armenia, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Over the years, Kurdish claims have oscillated between full-on separatism and autonomy within a multi-ethnic Iranian state.