Iranian schoolgirls have come to the fore in protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, stripping off their hijabs and holding sporadic rallies to defy a deadly security force crackdown.
Amini, 22, was pronounced dead days after the notorious Morality Police arrested the Iranian Kurd last month for allegedly flouting the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women.
Anger flared at her funeral and spread to become the largest wave of protests to rock Iran in nearly three years, despite a backlash from security forces that has killed dozens and arrested hundreds.
Students rallied over the weekend before being confronted by riot police, who cornered them in an underground car park at Tehran’s prestigious Sharif University of Technology before dragging them away.
Since then, schoolgirls across the country have taken over, stripping off their hijabs, shouting anti-regime slogans and defacing images of clerical state leaders.
“Death to the dictator,” chanted a group of bareheaded girls in a nod to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as they forced a man, reportedly the headmaster, out of a school in Karaj, west of Tehran, on Monday, video verified by AFP.
Another group of girls sings “Woman, Life, Freedom” while marching down a street in Gohardasht’s Karaj district.
“These are really extraordinary scenes. If these protests get anywhere, it’s because of the schoolgirls,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj of news and analysis website Bourse & Bazaar in response.
Schoolgirls are also seen emptying classrooms and appearing at flash mob protests to avoid detection, in other footage shared online.
In a video shared by social media channel 1500tasvir, a boisterous group of girls are seen shouting “Go away, Basiji” at a man standing on a podium in the southern city of Shiraz, in reference to the paramilitary force .
AFP was unable to independently verify the footage.
– singers silenced –
As the women-led protests enter their fourth week, Iran has escalated its crackdown, rounding up high-profile supporters of the movement and imposing internet restrictions limiting access to social media.
On Tuesday night, Iranian pop singer Shirvin Hajipour, who was arrested after his song supporting the protests went viral and became an anthem of the movement, was released on bail.
“I’m here to say I’m fine. But I’m sorry that some specific movements outside of Iran — with whom I had no ties — made inappropriate political use of this song,” he told his 1.9 million Instagram followers shortly after his release.
Iran’s judiciary, meanwhile, opened an investigation into the death of teenager Nika Shakrami, who was reportedly killed during the protests.
BBC Persian and Iran Wire reported that authorities confiscated her body and buried her in secret on Monday to avoid a burial that could spark further protests.
At least 92 protesters have been killed in the unrest so far, according to the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR).
Amnesty International has confirmed 53 deaths, while the Fars news agency put the death toll at “around 60” last week. At least 12 members of the security forces were reported to have been killed.
Another 63 people were killed last week when security forces “bloodyly repressed” a protest in Zahedan, near Iran’s southeastern border with Pakistan, the IHR said.
The clashes erupted after Friday prayers during protests sparked by allegations that a police chief in the region raped a teenage girl from the Sunni Baluchi minority, sources said.
– threaten sanctions –
The move has drawn worldwide condemnation.
On Tuesday, the European Union joined the United States in warning that it wants to impose tough new sanctions on Iran over the bloody crackdown.
Proposed sanctions against senior Iranian officials include “freezing their assets and their right to travel,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said.
Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of fueling the protests and said last week nine foreigners – including those from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland – had been arrested.
The unrest has overshadowed diplomatic efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers that has teetered on the verge of breakthrough in recent months before faltering again.
However, the White House said the “problems with Iran’s behavior” were unrelated to efforts to revive the nuclear deal.