Iran targets celebrities and media over Mahsa Amini protests

Iran on Thursday ramped up pressure on celebrities and journalists over the wave of women-led protests sparked by outrage over the death of Mahsa Amini after she was arrested by the Islamic Republic’s morality police.

Filmmakers, athletes, musicians and actors have supported the demonstrations, and many took it as a signal that the national football team stayed in their black tracksuits as the anthems were played ahead of a game in Vienna against Senegal.

“We will take action against the celebrities who have fueled the unrest,” Tehran province governor Mohsen Mansouri said, according to the ISNA news agency.

Iran’s judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei similarly accused that “those who became famous thanks to the support of the system joined the enemy in difficult times”.

The warnings came after nearly two weeks of protests across Iran and a deadly crackdown marked by “ruthless violence by security forces,” according to human rights group Amnesty International.

Public anger flared after Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, died on September 16, three days after her arrest for allegedly violating strict Iranian rules for women to wear hijab headscarves and dress modestly.

“Woman, life, freedom!” Protesters have since sung at the largest demonstrations in Iran in nearly three years, during which women defiantly burned their headscarves and cut their hair.

President Ebrahim Raisi warned that despite “mourning and sadness” over Amini’s death, public safety “is the red line of the Islamic Republic of Iran and no one is allowed to break the law and wreak havoc”.

– “No to dictatorship” –

Iran on Thursday criticized France’s “interference” in its internal affairs over a statement supporting the protests, after earlier complaining to Britain and Norway.

Solidarity protests with Iranian women have taken place around the world, and rallies are planned in 70 cities on Saturday.

A protest erupted in the Afghan capital Kabul, where women gathered in front of the Iranian embassy with banners reading “Iran has risen, it’s our turn!” and “From Kabul to Iran, say no to dictatorship!”

Forces of the ruling hard-line Islamist Taliban fired their weapons in the air to disperse the crowd, then quickly grabbed the banners and tore them up, an AFP correspondent reported.

Iran on Thursday arrested reporter Elahe Mohammadi, who covered Amini’s funeral, said her lawyer, the latest in a growing number of journalists arrested.

Police also arrested journalist Niloufar Hamedi from the reformist daily Shargh, who went to the hospital where Amini was in a coma and helped expose the case to the world.

Intelligence officers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps arrested 50 members of an “organized network” behind the “riots” in the holy Shia city of Qom, the guards said, according to Fars news agency.

– ‘Violence against women’ –

The London-based organization Amnesty International has criticized Iran’s “widespread pattern of unlawful use of force and reckless violence by security forces”.

It said this included the use of live ammunition and metal pellets, severe beatings and sexual violence against women, all “under the guise of intentional ongoing internet and cellphone jamming.”

“Dozens of people, including children, have been killed and hundreds injured so far,” said the group’s general secretary, Agnes Callamard.

The Fars news agency said “around 60” people were killed, while the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights reported at least 76 deaths.

Iran has blamed external forces for the protests and launched cross-border missile and drone strikes on Wednesday that killed 13 people in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, accusing armed groups based there of fueling the unrest.

The Iranian government – whose economy has already been hit by sanctions over its controversial nuclear program – has sought to downplay the crisis.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said he had told Western diplomats at recent UN meetings the protests were “not a big deal” for the stability of the clerical state.

“There will be no regime change in Iran,” he told National Public Radio in New York on Wednesday. “Don’t play with the emotions of the Iranian people.”