IRAN: At least 76 people have been killed by Iranian security forces during 11 days of internal unrest sparked by the death of a woman in police custody, activists say.
Iran Human Rights (IHR), a Norway-based organization, accused authorities of using disproportionate force and live ammunition to suppress the dissent.
“Thirty-five of the deaths were reported in Mazandaran and Gilan provinces, north of Tehran, and 24 in the Kurdish-populated, north-western provinces of West Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, and Ilam,” it added.
Iranian officials have also cited the arrests of over 1,200 people.
State media have put the casualty toll at 41, including several security personnel, and blamed the “rioters” who were causing havoc in the country, inciting total “chaos”.
Hundreds of protesters, including journalists, have been detained for expressing their anger over the prominent role played by Iran’s notorious “moral police” in the alleged murder of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman named Mahsa Amini, who apparently failed to adhere to strict clothing conduct.
“The risk of torture and ill-treatment of protesters is serious, and the use of live ammunition against protesters is an international crime,” said IHR’s director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam. “The world must defend the Iranian people’s demands for their fundamental rights.”
The UN Human Rights Office also said it was very concerned by the authorities’ violent response and urged them to respect the right to protest peacefully.
The anti-government demonstrations have spread like wildfire to more than 80 cities and towns across Iran since the funeral of Amini on September 17.
Mahsa Amini’s Death
The 22-year-old Kurdish woman from the north-western city of Saqez had been visiting the capital, Tehran, on September 13 when she was arrested by morality police officers for allegedly violating the strict law requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab, or headscarf.
She eventually collapsed after being taken to a detention centre to be “educated” and died in the hospital just three days later while in a coma.
The police ruled out the cause of death as sudden heart failure but her family suspects she had been brutally beaten by officers.
The protests against the morality police and hijab law triggered by her death quickly evolved into the most serious challenge that Iran’s Shia Muslim clerical establishment has faced in years.
The protests have turned chaotic and grizzly as thousands of women have taken to the streets and resorted to openly burning their veils or cutting off their long hair in public rebellion against the government’s qualms about women’s virtuous clothing.
Social media posts have shown women committing these acts of defiance in full view of the moral codes of the Islamic Republic in the backdrop of cheers and chants of “Women, life, freedom” and “Death to the Dictator”– a reference to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
On Monday, protests were reported in Tehran and a number of other cities, including Yazd, in the centre of the country, and Tabriz and Sanandaj, in the northwest.
Students and teachers at more than 20 universities also staged a strike and walked out of their classrooms.
Consequently, the case has drawn international attention and downright condemnation.
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) demanded the release of at least 20 reporters and bloggers who had been detained at the protests, as well as human rights defenders, lawyers, and civil society activists.
“Iranian security forces must drop their repressive measures against the journalists telling this critical story and restore the internet access that is vital to keep the public informed,” the CPJ said.
President Ebrahim Raisi has meanwhile spoken of the need to “take decisive action against opponents of the security and peace of the country.”