Massive protests have erupted in Iran’s Kurdistan province after a 22-year old woman died at the hands of the country’s morality police having been arrested for not wearing the hijab properly.
The Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini (Zhina), died at an intensive care unit in Tehran on Friday after falling into a coma due to brain injuries she suffered during her arrest and detention.
The young woman was arrested on Tuesday in Tehran for violating Iran’s hijab law, which President Ebrahim Raisi recently updated with new restrictions.
Protests broke out with hundreds of local people gathering for Amini’s burial in her home town of Saqqez. Risking punishment, women took their headscarves off at the funeral in protest at the brutality of the morality police, chanting “death to the dictator” in reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
According to the Hengaw Organisation For Human Rights, a Kurdish watchdog, the security forces had wanted to bury Amini’s body overnight, but the young woman’s family intervened to stop the early burial.
Angry protestors marched on the local governor’s office following the burial, the BBC Persian service reported. At least 13 people were injured, including a young man in a critical condition, after the anti-riot police used shotguns and tear gas against the protestors, Hengaw said.
Kurdish civil society organisations called for a general strike across the province, while protests spread to the provincial capital, Sanandaj, and continued late into the night.
“The violent attacks of Iranian regime against women and particularly Kurdish women are unacceptable. All groups should develop a radical and freedom-seeking attitude towards those attacks,” said the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK) and the Democratic and Free Society of East Kurdistan (KODAR) in a statement.
PJAK and KODAR invited all people in the province, particularly young people and women, to protest against Amini’s death on 19 September and adopt the slogan “jin, jiyan, azadi” (woman, life, freedom).
President Raisi meanwhile asked for the cause of the incident to be investigated with “urgency and special attention”, The Independent reported, quoting Iranian state media.
Witnesses to Amini’s detention claimed she was beaten inside the police van, but the police denied this and said the 22-year-old had suffered a heart attack.
Amini’s uncle told the Iranian media that she was healthy and had no heart-related medical problems. According to her family, the security forces had told them that Amini was being taken for “re-education” and would be released later that night.
Iranian TV also aired CCTV footage of Amini under arrest, but human rights activists accused the state media of censoring the footage to create a false story, the BBC said.
According to several watchdogs, internet connection has also been disrupted in several places in the country, with people complaining about being unable to upload videos to social media.
Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, women in Iran have been obliged to cover their hair and disguise their figures with their clothes in accordance with Islamic (shari’a) law.
Since 2017, women of all ages in Iran have stepped up their resistance against the religious laws by taking off their hijabs, despite the threat of public rebuke, fines and arrest. The Iranian authorities also ramped up repression of women in response to their increased resistance.
President Raisi in July called on all government institutions to strictly enforce “chastity and hijab”, calling women’s peaceful protests “an organised promotion of [moral] corruption in Islamic society.”
“Mahsa Amini is one among countless victims of the Islamic Republic’s war on women,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
Nearly 16,000 women have been persecuted in Iran by hijab enforcement patrols, MSN reported, quoting a Persian daily.
Police brutality has become more common in recent months, with footage showing violent arrests of women and girls being shared on daily basis, it said.