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Mahsa Amini: Protests escalate across Iran over young woman's death after morality police arrest

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By Euronews  with AFP, Reuters
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Exiled Iranians gather in protest in front of the Iranian embassy in Berlin, 20 September 2022
Exiled Iranians gather in protest in front of the Iranian embassy in Berlin, 20 September 2022   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Protests continued throughout Iran for the fifth night in a row over the death of a young woman said to have been severely beaten by the morality police tasked with enforcing a strict dress code for women.

Demonstrators took to the streets in 15 cities across Iran, blocking traffic, setting fire to garbage cans and police vehicles, throwing stones at security forces and chanting anti-government slogans, the state-run news agency Irna reported on Wednesday.

Police used tear gas and made arrests to disperse the crowd, the agency said.

Women, many of whom had removed their headscarves, and men gathered in Tehran and other major cities in the country, including Mashhad, Tabriz, Rasht, Isfahan, and Kish, the agency added.

A human rights organisation reported that the death toll had reached six people killed and dozens injured by Wednesday. The governor of Kurdistan -- one of Iran's 31 provinces -- Esmail Zarei Kousha, said that three people were killed in the protests in the region.

Videos purportedly from the protests showed women dancing in squares or cutting their hair in public, while other footage shared on social media claimed to show demonstrators clashing with police in protective gear.

Euronews could not independently verify those videos.

Amini's death was caused by a 'pre-existing medical conditions', police claim

The morality police arrested Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdistan native, on 13 September in Tehran for "wearing unsuitable attire" by the morality police.

After being taken to a so-called “guidance centre”, she reportedly had a heart attack and a stroke and fell into a coma.

Amini died on 16 September in hospital, according to state television and her family.

The Tehran police chief claimed she had preexisting medical conditions, including diabetes and epilepsy and explained that she was held in custody because she had violated Iran’s mandatory hijab rules by wearing it too loosely.

Amini's father rejected this, stating she had no health problems and that she suffered bruises to her legs in custody and reiterated that he held the police responsible for her death. 

In Iran, covering one's hair is mandatory in public since the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

The morality police, officially known as Guidance Patrol, also prohibit women from wearing short coats above the knee, tight pants and jeans with holes in them, and brightly coloured outfits, among other things.

The country's former President Hassan Rouhani eased the enforcement of the rules and openly accused the morality police of being too aggressive, leading to its chief promising to stop the arrests of women for violating the dress code in 2017.

However, the religious hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, elected president last year, seems to have reverted the policy, with reports of women being beaten with batons, slapped in the face and dragged into police vehicles on the increase in recent months.

The Taliban in Afghanistan are the only other ruling government that enforces strict hijab rules in the world.

Iranian officials point fingers at foreign agents, unspecified terrorists

The protests originally started in Amini's hometown of Saqqez after her burial but spread rapidly after her death unleashed a flood of simmering anger over numerous issues, including rights, security and an economy reeling from international sanctions.

It is some of Iran's worst unrest since street clashes last year over water shortages. The Iranian government accuses foreign agents and unspecified terrorists of instigating the violence.

Following condemnations from the United Nations, the EU, the US, France and other countries over Amini's case and the handling of the protests by Iranian forces, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani responded on Tuesday night by blasting what he called "foreign interventionist positions".

"It is regrettable that some countries are trying to take advantage of an incident under investigation to pursue their political goals and desires against the Iranian government and people," he said.

In an apparent effort to defuse tensions, an aide to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei paid condolences to Amini's family, saying that Khamenei was affected and pained by her death.

"All institutions will take action to defend the rights that were violated," Khamenei's representative in the Kurdistan province, Abdolreza Pourzahabi, said while visiting Amini's family home, state media reported.

However, Ayatollah Khamenei himself made no mention of Amini or the ongoing protests in his public appearance on Wednesday -- the second time he addressed the public in less than a week after reports claimed he was seriously ill and bed-ridden. 

In the meantime, demonstrations over Amini's death have also been organised by the Iranian diaspora in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany, as well as in front of the UN headquarters in New York.