Protests in Iran Show No Sign of Slowing
Protests in Iran are still going strong weeks after the outrage sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini (also known by her Kurdish name Zhina Amini). On September 13, Amini was arrested outside of a subway in Iran’s capital city of Tehran. Amini was taken into custody by Iran’s Islamic Republic Security Force, known as the ‘morality police’, which claimed she was wearing her hijab in a manner unfitting of Iran’s compulsory veiling laws. Three days later, police brought Amini to a hospital, where she was determined to be brain dead and without vital signs. Officials say Amini suffered a stroke due to a heart condition. Amini’s family insists she has never been diagnosed with any heart condition, and says other detainees witnessed her being beaten. A photo widely shared on the internet shows Amini in a hospital bed with blood stained around her ear, a possible sign of traumatic head injury.
In the nearly three weeks since Amini’s death on September 16, protests have occurred in almost all of Iran’s 31 provinces. Women have been leading the protesting, taking to the streets to burn their hijabs, chanting “women, life, freedom,” and cutting their hair. All these acts violate Iranian law and carry severe consequences. Strict dress code laws have been in place since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
The Iranian government has flooded protest zones with police and military forces. Scenes of police violence have been circulating online, sometimes through the use of virtual private networks, as the government has restricted internet access, blocked the use of messaging apps, and shut off mobile data networks. On October 2, students protesting at Sharif University in Tehran were met with a crack down from police. Videos shared on Twitter by activist account @1500tasvir show students being corralled inside a parking garage by police on motorbikes. One man present at the protests told CNN that “they [police] had guns, they had paintball guns, they had batons” and that they were using tear gas.
According to state-controlled television, at least 41 people have died since the start of the protests. However, human rights groups believe the number is undoubtedly higher. The Norway-based Iran Human Rights group released a statement on October 2 claiming they have confirmed 133 deaths since the protests began. There are also reports of mass detainment; a count by the Associated Press puts the number of those arrested at at least 1,500. According to the non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists, that number includes twenty-eight journalists.
The US, which has sanctioned tools for internet access to Iran, has authorized private tech companies to increase online access in the area. Iran has accused Western leaders of trying to violate the country’s sovereignty with these efforts and by making comments supporting protestors. In a public address, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei called the protests “riots and insecurities… designed by America and the Zionist regime, and their employees.”