International alarms struck on Tuesday over a deadly crackdown in Iran against protests sparked by the death of young Iranian woman Mahsa Amini after her arrest by Tehran’s notorious vice squad.
Amini, 22, died on Friday three days after being rushed to hospital following her arrest by police responsible for enforcing Iran’s strict dress code for women.
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.
The protests are among the most serious in Iran since November 2019 demonstrations over fuel price hikes and this time have been marked by the presence of large numbers of women, who have occasionally removed their headscarves in violation of the strict laws of the Islamic republic, images on social media media show.
There have been protests in Tehran, but the most violent clashes to date have been in the northern province of Kurdistan, where Amini came from.
The governor of the province, Ismail Zarei Koosha, confirmed the deaths of three people, claiming they were “suspectedly murdered” as part of “a conspiracy by the enemy,” according to the Fars news agency.
However, activists say dozens of people were also injured and accuse the security forces of using live fire to kill the victims.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said witness statements and videos circulating on social media “indicate authorities are using tear gas to disperse protesters and have apparently used deadly force in Kurdistan province.”
“The crackdown with tear gas and deadly violence against protesters claiming responsibility for the death of a woman in police custody reinforces the systematic nature of government rights violations and impunity,” said Tara Sepehri Far, HRW senior Iran investigator.
In Geneva, the UN said acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif raised the alarm over Amini’s death and the “violent response by security forces to the ensuing protests”.
She said there should be an independent inquiry into “Mahsa Amini’s tragic death and allegations of torture and ill-treatment.”
– ‘Stop further state killings’ –
The Kurdish human rights organization Hengaw, which is based in Norway, said it has confirmed a total of three deaths in Kurdistan province, one each in the cities of Divandareh, Saqqez and Dehglan.
It added that 221 people had been injured and another 250 arrested in the Kurdistan region, where a general strike had also been held on Monday.
A 10-year-old girl – photos of whose blood-spattered body have gone viral on social media – was injured in the city of Bukan but was alive, it added.
Social media shows that there have been violent clashes between protesters and the security forces, especially in the city of Divandareh, with sounds of gunfire.
Protests continued on Tuesday in Kurdistan and around Tehran’s main universities and also, unusually, in Tehran’s bazaar, footage showed.
Slogans called, among other things, “Death to the dictator” and “Woman, life, freedom”.
“The international community should not be silent observers of the crimes the Islamic Republic is committing against its own people,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, Iran’s Human Rights (IHR) NGO director.
“We call on countries that have diplomatic relations with Iran, especially the EU, to stop further state killings by supporting the people’s demands to realize their fundamental rights.”
– ‘Systemic Persecution’ –
IHL said security forces in certain regions used batons, tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition “to directly attack protesters and crush the protests”.
The internet access monitor Netblocks noted a regional internet outage of more than three hours in Kurdistan province and also partial disruptions in Tehran and other cities during protests on Monday.
The situation will increase pressure on Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who is in New York this week for the UN General Assembly, where he has already been closely monitored over Iran’s human rights situation.
French President Emmanuel Macron held a rare meeting with Raisi on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to agree a deal that revives the 2015 nuclear accord.
The Islamic headscarf has been made publicly mandatory for all women in Iran since shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution that ousted the Shah.
The rules are enforced by a special police unit known as the Gasht-e Ershad (escort patrol), which has the power to arrest women believed to have broken the dress code, although they are normally released with a warning.