Protesters clashed with security forces in Iran’s biggest cities and across its Kurdish region on Monday as anger mounted over the death of a 22-year-old woman after she was detained by the Islamic republic’s morality police.
The death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian who was on a visit to Tehran, has rocked the nation. Amini was arrested by the morality police last Tuesday, accused of wearing tight trousers that contravened the republic’s obligatory Islamic dress codes for women, Tehran police confirmed on Monday.
While Iranian officials have denied she was killed while in detention, suggesting a heart attack put her in a coma for four days before she was released, her death has sparked calls for the abolition of the strict dress codes.
Protesters clashed with security forces in central Tehran, eyewitnesses said, with scores of women seen removing their headscarves. Protests in northwestern Kurdistan province have continued since Amini’s funeral on Saturday. In the city of Divandarreh, videos on social media showed exchanges of gunfire between security forces and protesters, while businesses in cities and towns across the region went on strike. Protests in the central city of Isfahan, Rasht on the Caspian Sea, Mashhad in the north-east and Karaj close to the capital were also reported.
“The whole [of] Iran is in blood: from Kurdistan to Tehran,” students at Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran chanted on Monday. Others shouted: “Being killed for scarves? How long will this humiliation last?” At the University of Tehran, students chanted: “women; life; freedom”.
“Kurdistan is shut down as people remain furious about what happened to their innocent girl,” a Kurdish activist told the Financial Times. “Can’t they see that Kurdish women took off their scarves at her funeral?”
Tehran’s police chief, Brigadier-General Hossein Rahimi, repeated assertions on Monday that Amini was not physically harmed. He said there was no camera in the van used to arrest her but added that there were eyewitnesses who proved she was not injured. Police have released two CCTV camera videos that show she walked out of the van and into a salon to listen to Islamic teachings, with no evidence of violence committed, before she collapsed on the ground.
Iranians have also expressed their disgust at Amini’s death on social media. At least two actresses appeared without the obligatory covering in videos and another recorded herself showing her hair shaved off. Many businesses in Tehran posted stories on Instagram indicating they would not promote commercial activities until further notice to respect the national mourning.
Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi on Sunday said she was like “my own daughter” in a phone call to the family of Amini, who belong to the country’s Sunni Muslim minority, and promised an investigation. Other state organisations, including the judiciary and the majlis (parliament), have also vowed to look into the cause of death.
But the judiciary also warned on Monday that the Islamic republic would not allow anyone to exploit this tragedy to undermine the regime by spreading false allegations.
While many Iranian women have challenged the obligation to dress modestly by not wearing headscarves in public, the saga of Amini has made some call for the full annulment of the law. Even some politicians and Shia Islam clerics have joined the campaign to say the obligation to wear the hijab is out of step with modern Iranian society.
Parvin, a 52-year-old Shia Muslim, said: “I have chosen the hijab myself because I believe in it, but I’m now horrified to see this beautiful girl killed. This is not what Islam says.”