Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini was visiting Tehran with her family when she encountered the notorious Morality Police and died after being “violently hit to the head,” her Iraq-based cousin said.
“Jhina’s death has opened the floodgates to popular anger,” said Erfan Salih Mortezaee, 34, using Amini’s Kurdish first name, referring to the ongoing wave of protests her death has sparked.
In a phone call after the young woman’s death was announced, Amini’s mother told him what happened when her 22-year-old daughter was arrested, Mortezaee said.
AFP spoke to Mortezaee in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region – bordering Amini’s home province of Kurdistan in Iran – where he has been living for a year.
There he joined the Iranian Kurdish nationalist group Komala, which has long waged a cross-border insurgency against Tehran authorities and is seeking autonomy for Kurdish-populated areas in northwestern Iran.
Mortezaee said that before starting university, Amini went to Tehran with her parents and 17-year-old brother to visit relatives.
On September 13, Amini, her brother and female relatives went to the capital.
As they exited Haghani subway station, “the vice squad stopped them and arrested Jhina and her relatives,” Mortezaee said.
Mortezaee wore military fatigues and was speaking at a Komala base in the Sulaimaniyah region of northern Iraq. He said Amini’s brother tried to tell police that it was their “first time in Tehran” and “didn’t know the (local) traditions”.
But his appeals fell on deaf ears.
– punches –
“The cop said to him, ‘We’re going to take her in, teach her the rules and teach her how to wear the hijab and dress,'” Mortezaee said.
Amini was “dressed normally. Like all women in Iran, she wore the hijab,” her cousin added.
In Iran, women of all faiths are required to cover their hair, and the moral police forbid them from wearing coats above the knee, tight pants, bright colors or ripped jeans.
The code was largely circumvented for decades, particularly in major cities, but crackdowns were regular.
“The cops hit Jhina, they hit her in front of her brother,” Mortezaee said.
“They beat her, they hit her hands and legs with a baton,” Mortezaee said, adding that they also pepper sprayed her brother’s face.
Jhina and her relatives were forced into the morality police van and taken to a police station on Vezarat Street.
The beatings continued throughout the drive, Mortezaee said.
“When they hit her in the head with a baton, she passed out,” he said. “One of the officers said, ‘She’s doing a show’.”
After her arrival, it took at least an hour and a half before she was taken to a hospital in Tehran, despite pleas from her loved ones, Mortezaee said.
After three days in a coma, she was pronounced dead.
– ‘Live better’ –
Amini’s mother said doctors at the hospital told the family her daughter “received a severe blow to the head,” Mortezaee said.
Iranian authorities have denied any involvement in Amini’s death, which has sparked 12 consecutive nights of protests and a crackdown by security forces.
“What is happening in Kurdistan and across Iran is popular anger against the regime of the Islamic Republic, against the dictatorship,” Mortezaee said.
At least 76 people were killed in the demonstrations, according to the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR), while the semi-official Iranian news agency Fars put the number of victims at “around 60”.
Authorities said Monday they had made more than 1,200 arrests.
The protests come at a particularly sensitive time for Iran’s leaders as the country’s economy remains mired in a crisis, largely caused by US sanctions over its nuclear program.
The country has seen protests in recent years, including deadly demonstrations in November 2019 over rising fuel prices.
But this time, “women are taking the lead and actively participating in the protests,” Mortezaee said.
“Women bravely take part in the demonstrations and take to the streets day and night,” he said.
“We young people know that a better life awaits us when this regime falls.”