PARIS – The official death toll has almost doubled to 35 in a crackdown by Iranian security forces after more than a week of protests that broke out after the death of a young woman in custody.
Hundreds of angry protesters have been arrested and crowds have taken to the streets of major cities across Iran for eight consecutive nights since Mahsa Amini’s death.
The 22-year-old Kurdish woman has been pronounced dead after being in a coma for three days after being arrested by Iran’s feared morality police for “improperly” wearing the headscarf.
State television said the number of deaths in “recent unrest” rose to 35 from a previous 17, including at least five security guards.
Widespread arrests were reported, with the police chief in northwestern Guilan province on Saturday announcing “the arrest of 739 rioters, including 60 women,” in his region alone, Tasnim news agency said.
Iran restricts internet access as protests kill 11
Protests erupted across the Islamic Republic on Friday night, with online videos showing some turning violent, including in Tehran.
Footage showed security forces firing what appeared to be live ammunition at unarmed protesters in the northwestern cities of Piranshahr, Mahabad and Urmia.
In a video shared by the Oslo-based NGO Iran Human Rights, a uniformed member of the security forces is seen firing an AK-47 assault rifle at protesters in Shahr-e Rey, on the southern outskirts of Tehran.
Security forces have carried out a spate of arrests of activists and journalists, with Sherif Mansour of the US-based media regulator Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reporting that 11 people have been arrested since Monday.
Among them Niloufar Hamedi from the reform newspaper Shargh, who reported on Amini’s death.
Elsewhere, Norway-based Kurdish rights group Hengaw said protesters had “taken control” of parts of the town of Oshnaviyeh in western Azerbaijan province.
Pictures showed protesters walking free with their hands raised in triumph, but Hengaw acknowledged this could be “temporary” and expressed fears of a new crackdown there.
Amnesty International warned of “the risk of further bloodshed amid a deliberately imposed internet blackout”.
The London-based human rights group said evidence it collected from 20 cities across Iran pointed to “a harrowing pattern by Iranian security forces intentionally and unlawfully firing live ammunition at protesters.”
In its statement, Amnesty said security forces shot dead at least 19 people, including at least three children, on Wednesday night alone.
Thousands of people marched through Tehran on Friday during a pro-Hijab rally, paying tribute to security forces who crushed protests by so-called “conspirators” for a week.
Demonstrations in support of the security forces also took place in the cities of Ahvaz, Isfahan, Qom and Tabriz.
Amini died after being arrested by Iran’s Morality Police, a unit responsible for enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women.
Activists said she suffered a blow to the head while in custody, but this has not been confirmed by Iranian authorities, who have launched an investigation.
Iranian women have burned their headscarves and symbolically cut their hair to protest the strict dress code, which has been echoed in solidarity demonstrations from New York to Istanbul and Brussels to Santiago, Chile.
Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said Amini had not been beaten.
“Reports were received from regulators, witnesses were interviewed, videos were reviewed, forensic reports were obtained and it was determined that there had been no beatings,” he said.
The minister said Iran is investigating Amini’s death, adding: “We have to wait for the coroner’s final opinion, which will take time.”
Amnesty has dropped the Iranian probe and urged the world to take “meaningful action” against the bloody crackdown.
“UN member states must go beyond toothless declarations, hear calls for justice from victims and human rights defenders in Iran, and urgently establish an independent UN investigative mechanism,” said Heba Morayef, his director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Iran has imposed strict restrictions on the use of the internet to hamper the gathering of protesters and prevent images of the backlash from reaching the outside world.
The United States announced on Friday that it would ease export restrictions on Iran to expand internet services.
The new measures would “help counter the Iranian government’s efforts to monitor and censor its citizens,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said.