Protests have swept across at least 19 cities in Iran sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman earlier detained by the country’s morality police
ByJON GAMBRELL Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Protests swept across at least 19 cities in Iran on Wednesday sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman detained last month by the country’s morality police, even as security forces targeted demonstrators in the streets, activists said.
The protests over the death of Mahsa Amini have become one of the greatest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the country’s 2009 Green Movement. Demonstrators have included oil workers, high school students and women marching without their mandatory headscarf, or hijab.
Calls for protests beginning at noon Wednesday saw a massive deployment of riot police and plainclothes officers throughout Tehran and other cities, witnesses said and videos showed. Witnesses also described disruptions affecting their mobile internet services.
NetBlocks, an advocacy group, said that Iran’s internet traffic had dropped to some 25% compared to the peak, even during a working day in which students were in class across the country.
“The incident is likely to further limit the free flow of information amid protests,” NetBlocks said.
Despite the disruption, witnesses saw at least one demonstration in Tehran by some 30 women who had removed their headscarves while chanting: “Death to the dictator!” Those cries, referring to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, can result in a closed-door trial in the country’s Revolutionary Court with the threat of a death sentence.
Passing cars honked in support of the women despite the threats of security forces. Other women simply continued with their day not wearing the hijab in a silent protest, witnesses said. Demonstrations also occurred on university campuses in Tehran as well, online videos purported to show.
Lawyers also peacefully demonstrated in front of the Iran Central Bar Association in Tehran, chanting: “Woman, life, freedom” — a slogan of the demonstrations so far. The video corresponded to known features of the association’s building. A later video showed them fleeing after security forces fired tear gas at them, the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran said.
At least three lawyers were among the some two dozen arrested there, the center said.
“Lawyers willing to defend detainees arrested for peaceful protest are the last lifeline for a citizenry under attack by the Iranian government,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the center’s executive director. “Protests must be allowed without the threat of lethal state violence or arbitrary arrest.”
The center said it tracked protests in at least 19 cities across Iran.
Gathering information about the demonstrations remains difficult amid the internet restrictions and the arrests of at least 40 journalists in the country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Iran’s government insists Amini was not mistreated, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beating after she was detained for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. Subsequent videos have shown security forces beating and shoving female protesters, including women who have torn off their hijabs.
Speaking to the nation’s Expediency Council on Wednesday, Khamenei once more asserted that Iran’s foreign adversaries had instigated the protests, which he dismissed as being “scattered.”
Even if they are not enemy elements, some of these people are moving in their direction, according to Khamenei.
Iranian state television, which has long been dominated by the country’s hardliners, aired footage that it claimed showed women protesting in favor of the hijab’s requirement across the country. The hijab is only required by law and by force in Afghanistan and Iran.
Given that Amini was a Kurd, anger has been especially intense in western Iran’s Kurdish regions. The Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, a Kurdish organization, displayed pictures of shuttered stores and deserted streets on Wednesday, claiming that shopkeepers were on strike.
The group also shared a video that it claimed was from Saqqez, the city where Amini was born and raised, in which riot police were seen traveling by the truckload.
While Amini’s death has been the main focus of the protests, Iran’s economy has been the source of simmering resentment for years. The country’s rial currency collapsed as a result of sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program, wiping out many people’s savings.
How many people have been killed or arrested so far during the protests is still unknown.
Iran Human Rights, an organization with headquarters in Oslo, estimated on Wednesday that at least 201 people had died. This includes the roughly 90 people who were killed by security forces in Zahedan, an Iranian city in the east, during protests against a police officer who was charged with rape in a different case. Without supplying any information or proof, Iranian authorities have claimed that unidentified separatists were involved in the violence in Zahedan.
There are numerous videos online showing riot police firing into crowds, some possibly using live ammunition. Gen. Hossein Ashtari, the head of Iran’s police force, made the unsupported claim on state television on Wednesday that “counterrevolutionary groups abroad” were using police uniforms to fire into the crowds in response to public pressure. He asserted that some of those people had been detained by his officers.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Education Minister Yousof Nouri offered the first confirmation that school-age children had been arrested amid the protests. He declined to offer a figure for those arrest, the newspaper Shargh reported, only saying those detained had been put “in a psychiatric center,” not in jail.