DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Iran’s president has ordered an investigation into the case of a young woman who fell into a coma and died while in custody in Tehran, state media reported Friday. Police say she had a heart attack.
According to the state-run IRNA news agency, President Ebrahim Raisi has asked Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi to “examine the cause of the incident with urgency and special attention”.
According to social media reports, Mahsa Amini, 22, was detained earlier this week by the so-called “morality police” after officers apparently found a flaw in her headscarf or hijab.
The headscarf has been compulsory for women in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and members of the vice squad enforce the strict dress code.
Police said Thursday that Amini, who was arrested on Tuesday, was taken to a hospital after allegedly suffering a heart attack while in custody. Pro-reform news websites quoted an uncle of Amini as saying she had no history of heart disease.
On Friday, police said there was no violence or physical contact between officers and Amini while she was in custody. Police also showed closed-circuit footage showing Amini in a police station along with other detainees.
At one point she gets up from a chair, goes to talk to another woman, then holds her head in both hands, stumbles into a chair and collapses. In the next part of the footage she is carried away on a stretcher.
The official website of the Iranian judiciary, Mizan.news, states that Tehran’s chief prosecutor, Ali Salehi, has ordered a police team of forensic pathologists to investigate the medical aspects of the case.
Iran’s morality police has been criticized in recent years for its treatment of people, especially young women, and videos uploaded on social media have shown officers forcing women into police vehicles.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has supported a softer stance on women who do not adhere to official dress codes.
But hardliners have called for harsh sentences and even whipping, arguing that allowing women to show their hair leads to moral decline and the breakdown of families. Justice has in recent years urged people to inform women who do not wear hijab.
Since 2017, after dozens of women publicly took off their headscarves in a wave of protests, authorities have taken stricter measures.
Amini’s case was condemned by Iranian celebrities, athletes and other public figures.
Former reformist president Mohammad Khatami said the vice squad’s behavior was a “disaster”, while outspoken politician and former lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi called on Khamenei to speak publicly about Amini’s case.
Popular former footballer Ali Karimi tweeted that as children of senior officials leave the country, “our children are dying”.
Hossein Mahini, another former footballer, said in a tweet to the vice squad: “We hate you.”
US special envoy to Iran Robert Malley tweeted that Amini’s death “being in custody for an ‘inappropriate’ hijab is appalling.” He added: “Those responsible for her death must be held accountable.”