Protests over the death of Mahsa Amini have spread across Iran after the young woman was arrested by morality police, a rights group said Wednesday that two more protesters were killed overnight, bringing the death toll to six.
Public anger has flared since Iranian authorities announced on Friday the death of 22-year-old Amini, who was being held for allegedly “improperly” wearing a hijab headscarf.
Activists said the woman, whose Kurdish name is Jhina, suffered a fatal blow to the head, a claim disputed by officials in the Islamic Republic, who said they had launched an investigation.
Some protesters have defiantly removed their hijabs and burned them in bonfires or symbolically cut their hair, according to video footage going viral on social media.
State media reported Wednesday that police used tear gas and made arrests to disperse crowds of up to 1,000 people in a fifth night of street rallies that had spread to 15 cities.
Demonstrators hurled rocks at security forces, set police vehicles and trash cans on fire and chanted anti-government slogans, the official IRNA news agency said.
The Article 19 rights group said it was “deeply concerned by reports of the unlawful use of force by Iranian police and security forces,” including the use of live ammunition.
Night rallies were held in Tehran and other cities including Mashhad in the northeast, Tabriz in the northwest, Rasht in the north, Isfahan in the center and Shiraz in the south, IRNA reported.
“Death to the dictator” and “Woman, life, freedom” could be heard shouting protesters in video footage that spread beyond Iran, despite online restrictions reported by internet access monitor Netblocks.
In Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke publicly on Wednesday, but made no mention of the unfolding unrest, and ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi was scheduled to address the UN General Assembly in New York later in the day.
– ‘Enemy Conspiracy’ –
Ismail Zarei Koosha, the governor of Kurdistan Province – where Amini lived and where the protests began – said Tuesday that three people had been killed in protests.
He insisted they were killed “in a suspicious manner” as part of a “conspiracy by the enemy,” Fars news agency reported.
Norway-based Kurdish human rights group Hengaw – which first reported those three deaths – said Wednesday that two other protesters had been killed overnight.
The two, aged 16 and 23, died in the cities of Piranshahr, where there were very violent clashes, and Urmia, both in West Azerbaijan province, Hengaw said.
Another male protester who was wounded in Divandareh on September 17 died in hospital from his injuries, sources said.
Video circulated online shows security forces opening fire on protesters in the southern city of Shiraz, where protests continued into the early hours of the morning.
Amini’s death and Iran’s response to the protests have prompted condemnation from the United Nations, the United States, France and other countries.
The protests are among the heaviest in Iran since the November 2019 riots over rising fuel prices.
State Department spokesman Nasser Kanani on Tuesday condemned what he called “foreign interventionist positions.”
“It is unfortunate that some countries are trying to use an investigated incident as an opportunity to pursue their political goals and aspirations against the government and people of Iran,” he said.
Iranian Telecommunications Minister Issa Zarepour warned of Internet restrictions on Wednesday, citing the “security issues these days,” ISNA news agency said.
Article 19 said it was “concerned about the local internet shutdowns” and recalled that in 2019 the authorities “used the darkness of a shutdown to kill, maim and arrest protesters and bystanders with impunity”.