Iran faces global criticism over the death of a woman in custody

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran faced international criticism Tuesday over the death of a woman detained by its morality police, sparking three days of protests that included clashes with security forces in the capital and other unrest that killed at least three souls.

The UN human rights office has called for an investigation. The United States, which is trying to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, has called on the Islamic Republic to end its “systematic persecution” of women. Italy also condemned her death.

Iranian officials dismissed the criticism as politically motivated and accused unnamed foreign countries of fomenting the unrest.

Read more: What a new nuclear deal with Iran might look like

Separately, an Iranian official said three people were killed by unnamed armed groups in the country’s Kurdish region where the protests began, the first official confirmation of unrest-related deaths.

The semi-official Fars news agency reported that around 300 protesters gathered in central Tehran on Tuesday, chanting “Death to the dictator”. AP reporters later saw a heavy police presence in the area, as well as burning trash cans and rocks strewn across some intersections.

A picture obtained by AFP outside Iran shows a burning container in the middle of an intersection during protests in Tehran on September 20, 2022. (AFP via Getty Images)

A picture obtained by AFP outside Iran shows a burning container in the middle of an intersection during protests in Tehran on September 20, 2022.

AFP via Getty Images

The governor of Tehran province, Mohsen Mansouri, accused foreign embassies of fueling the protests and said three foreign nationals had been arrested. He did not specify the nationality of the embassies and the detainees.

The UN body said Iran’s morality police had expanded their patrols in recent months, targeting women who do not properly wear the Islamic headscarf, known as the hijab. It said verified videos showed women being slapped in the face, beaten with batons and thrown into police vans for wearing hijabs that were too loose.

A similar patrol detained 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last Tuesday, taking her to a police station where she collapsed. Three days later she died. Iranian police denied abusing Amini and said she died of a heart attack. Authorities say they are investigating the incident.

“The tragic death of Mahsa Amini and the allegations of torture and ill-treatment must be immediately, impartially and effectively investigated by an independent competent authority,” said Nada Al-Nashif, Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Read more: Outrage in Iran over Mahsa Amini’s death is more than grief

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Amini “should be alive today”.

“Instead, the United States and the Iranian people mourn her.” We call on the Iranian government to end its systematic persecution of women and allow peaceful protests,” he tweeted.

Italy’s foreign ministry called for the “perpetrators of this cowardly act” to be brought to justice, saying “violence against innocent people, especially women and girls, can never be tolerated.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdolakhian dismissed the criticism, accusing the US of “shedding crocodile tears”.

“An investigation has been ordered into the (tragic) death of Mahsa, who as (the President) said was just like our own daughters,” he tweeted. “For Iran, human rights are an intrinsic value – unlike those who see them (as) a tool against adversaries.”

Women protest the death of Mahsa Amini outside the Iranian embassy in Berlin on September 17, 2022. (Paul Zinken-Photo Union/Getty Images)

Women protest the death of Mahsa Amini outside the Iranian embassy in Berlin on September 17, 2022.

Paul Zinken—Photo Union/Getty Images

Last week, Iranian police released a closed-circuit video showing the moment Amini collapsed. But her family says she had no heart problems.

Amjad Amini, her father, told an Iranian news website that witnesses saw her being pushed into a police car.

“I requested access to (video footage) from the cameras in the car as well as from the police station yard, but they did not respond,” he said. He also accused police of not taking her to hospital quickly enough, saying she could have been resuscitated.

He said that when he arrived at the hospital, he was not allowed to see the body, but he was able to glimpse bruises on her leg.

Authorities then pressured him to bury her at night, apparently to reduce the likelihood of protests, but Amini said the family convinced them to bury her at 8 a.m. instead.

Amini, who was Kurdish, was buried on Saturday in her hometown of Sakez in western Iran. Protests broke out there after her funeral and police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators on Saturday and Sunday. Several protesters were arrested.

The governor of Iran’s Kurdistan province, Esmail Zarei Kusha, told Fars that three people were killed by unnamed armed groups, linking the violence to the unrest.

He did not identify the victims but said one was killed in the town of Diwandare with a weapon not used by Iranian security forces. He said the second body was found in a car near Sacquez and that the third killing was “completely” suspicious.

The province has seen violence in the past between Iranian security forces and Kurdish separatists.

Protests spread to Tehran and other cities on Monday. A news website linked to state television reported that 22 people were arrested during a protest in the northern city of Rasht.

State television showed footage of Monday’s protests, including images of two police cars with their windows smashed. It said protesters also set fire to two motorcycles and burned Iranian flags in Kurdish areas and Tehran.

The state broadcaster blamed foreign countries and exiled opposition groups for the unrest, accusing them of using Amini’s death as a pretext for new economic sanctions.

Iran has experienced waves of protests in recent years, mainly because of a long-standing economic crisis exacerbated by Western sanctions related to the country’s nuclear program. The authorities managed to quell the protests by force.

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