‘Not afraid’: Violence escalates as Mahsa Amini protests in Iran enter fourth week

Protests intensified when Iran claimed Amini died of a longstanding illness rather than 'blows' to the head. Her family rejected the official report.

Schoolgirls chanted slogans and workers clashed violently with security forces as Iran protests over the death of Mahsa Amini entered the fourth week.

Anger flared after the 22-year-old Iranian Kurd’s death on 16 September, three days after her arrest in Tehran by the notorious morality police for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.

Mahsa Amini protests

Cause of death controversy

Iran said on Friday an investigation found Amini had died of a longstanding illness rather than “blows” to the head, despite her family reportedly saying she had previously been healthy.

Mahsa Amini’s father told London-based Iran International that he rejected the official report.

“I saw with my own eyes that blood had come from Mahsa’s ears and back of her neck,” the outlet quoted him as saying Saturday.

‘Woman, life, freedom’

The women-led protests continued even as ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi posed for a group photograph with students at Tehran’s all-female Al-Zahra University to mark the new academic year.

Young women on the same campus were seen shouting “Death to the oppressor”, said the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR).

In Amini’s hometown Saqez, in Kurdistan province, schoolgirls chanted “Woman, life, freedom” and marched down a street swinging headscarves in the air, in videos the Hengaw rights group said were recorded on Saturday.

Violence ensues

Gruesome videos were widely shared online of a man who was shot dead while sitting at the wheel of his car in Sanandaj, Kurdistan’s capital.

The province’s police chief, Ali Azadi, said he was “killed by anti-revolutionary forces”.

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Angry men appeared to take revenge on a member of the feared Basij militia in Sanandaj, swarming around him and beating him badly, in a widely shared video.

Internet monitor Netblocks reported outages in Sanandaj, and national mobile network disruptions.

Another shocking video shows a young woman said to have been shot dead in Mashhad. Many on social media compared it to footage of Neda Agha Soltan, a young woman who became an enduring symbol of the opposition after being shot dead at protests in 2009.

‘We will fight’

Despite internet restrictions, protesters have adopted new tactics to get their message across.

“We are not afraid anymore. We will fight,” said a large banner placed on an overpass of Tehran’s Modares highway, according to online images verified by AFP.

In other footage, a man is seen altering the wording of a large government billboard on the same highway from “The police are the servants of the people” to “The police are the murderers of the people”.

The ISNA news agency reported a heavy security presence in the capital, especially near universities. It said “scattered and limited gatherings” were held in Tehran during which “some demonstrators destroyed public property”.

Street protests were also reported in Isfahan, Karaj, Shiraz and Tabriz, among other cities. US-based campaigner and journalist Omid Memarian tweeted:

“Videos coming out from Tehran indicate that there are so many protests, in every corner of the city, in small and big numbers.”

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Hengaw, a Norway-based Kurdish rights group, said “widespread strikes” took place in Saqez, Sanandaj and Divandarreh, in Kurdistan province, as well as Mahabad in West Azerbaijan.

‘Blind eye’

IHR said at least 95 protesters have been killed in the crackdown, which has fuelled tensions between Iran and the West, especially its arch-enemy the United States.

Citing the UK-based Baluch Activists Campaign, IHR said another 90 people had been killed in Sistan-Baluchestan province after accusations that a regional police chief had raped a teenage girl triggered unrest there.

Raisi – who in July called for the mobilisation of all state institutions to enforce hijab rules – met Saturday evening with the judiciary chief and the parliament speaker, state news agency IRNA reported.

“They stressed that Iranian society now needs unity of all strata regardless of language, religion and ethnicity to overcome the hostility and divisiveness against Iran,” IRNA said.

International conflict

Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of stirring up the protests, and last week announced that nine foreign nationals – including from France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the Netherlands – had been arrested.

On Friday, France advised its nationals visiting Iran to “leave the country as soon as possible”, citing the risk of arbitrary detention.

The Netherlands advised its citizens to avoid travelling to Iran or to leave when they can do so safely.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian charity worker held in Tehran for six years until her release in March, called on the UK government to act over Iran’s rights abuses.

“We cannot be indifferent about what is happening in Iran,” she told Sky News. “And I think we have to hold Iran accountable.”

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© Agence France-Presse

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