Woman’s death in custody sparks protests in Iran

Woman’s death in custody sparks protests in Iran

Protests have erupted across Iran in recent days after a 22-year-old woman died while detained by vice squad for violating the country’s strictly enforced Islamic dress code.

Anger has seen women remove their mandatory headscarves, or hijab, from their hair after the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the vice squad for her allegedly loose headscarf. Online videos show women turning them over their heads while singing. Others have burned them in anger or cut their own hair.

Amini’s death has infuriated many Iranians, especially the young, who have come to see it as part of the Islamic Republic’s heavy-handed police control of dissent and the increasingly violent treatment of young women by the morality police.

At some demonstrations, protesters clashed with police. Thick clouds of tear gas have been observed in the capital Tehran.

Meanwhile, motorcyclists known as “Basij” in Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards have chased and beaten protesters — as they have done in recent years at other protests against water rights, the country’s crater economy, and other reasons that have been violently suppressed. .

Yet some protesters still chant ‘death to the dictator’, both against the rule of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and against Iran’s theocracy, despite the threat of arrest, jail time and even the possibility of a death sentence.

Here’s a look at what sparked the protests and where they could lead.

WHAT CAUSED THE PROTESTS IN IRAN?

Iran’s vice squad arrested Amini on September 13 in Tehran, where she was visiting from her hometown in the country’s western Kurdish region. She collapsed at a police station and died three days later.

Police arrested her for wearing her hijab too loose. Iran requires women to wear the headscarf in a way that completely covers their hair in public. Only Afghanistan under Taliban rule now actively enforces a similar law – even ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has rolled back enforcement in recent years.

Police deny that Amini was assaulted and say she died of a heart attack. President Ebrahaim Raisi, who will speak at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, has promised an investigation.

Amini’s family say she had no history of heart problems and they were unable to see her body before she was buried. The demonstrations broke out on Saturday after her funeral in the Kurdish city of Saqez and quickly spread to other parts of the country, including Tehran.

HOW ARE WOMEN TREATED IN IRAN?

Iranian women have full access to education, work outside the home and hold public office. But they are required to dress modestly in public, including wearing the hijab and long, loose-fitting robes. Unmarried men and women are not allowed to mix.

The rules, dating back to the days after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, are enforced by the vice squad. That force, officially known as the Guidance Patrol, is stationed in public areas. It consists of both men and women.

Enforcement was relaxed under former President Hassan Rouhani, a relatively moderate who at one point accused the morality police of being overly aggressive. In 2017, the chief of police said it would no longer arrest women for violating the dress code.

But under Raisi, a hardliner elected last year, the morality police seems to have been unleashed. The UN human rights agency says young women have been punched in the face, beaten with batons and pushed into police vehicles in recent months.

HOW HAS IRAN RESPONDED TO THE PROTESTS?

Iranian leaders have vowed to investigate the circumstances of Amini’s death, while accusing unnamed foreign countries and exiled opposition groups of using it as a pretext to foment unrest. That is a common pattern in all the protests that have sprung up in recent years.

Iran’s ruling clerics view the United States as a threat to the Islamic Republic and believe that accepting Western customs undermines society. Khamenei himself has seized on the so-called “color” protests in Europe and elsewhere as foreign interventions – not as people demonstrating for more rights.

Tensions have been particularly high since former President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and imposed crippling sanctions. The Biden administration has been working with European allies for the past two years to revive the deal, but negotiations appear to have stalled as non-proliferation experts warn Iran has enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb if it chooses to do so. build one. The Islamic Republic maintains that its program is peaceful.

The governor of Tehran said on Wednesday that authorities have arrested three foreigners in protests in the capital, without further elaborating. Iranian security forces have arrested at least 25 people and the governor of Kurdistan province says three people have been killed by armed groups linked to the protests, without further elaboration.

Activists and human rights groups have blamed Iran’s security forces for killing protesters in other demonstrations, such as the one over gasoline prices in 2019.

CAN THE PROTESTS DOWN THE GOVERNMENT OF IRAN?

Iran’s ruling clergy have endured several waves of protests over decades, eventually destroying them with brute force.

The biggest challenge to the clergy’s rule was the Green Movement that emerged after the country’s controversial 2009 presidential election and called for far-reaching reforms; millions of Iranians took to the streets.

The authorities responded with brutality, with the Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia opening fire on protesters and launching arrests. Opposition leaders were placed under house arrest.

Among the dead was Neda Agha Soltan, a 27-year-old woman who became an icon of the protest movement after being shot and bled to death in a video seen by millions on social media.

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Follow Joseph Krauss on Twitter at www.twitter.com/josephkrauss.

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