Forty-one people have died in week-long protests that erupted in Iran following the death in custody of a young woman accused of not wearing a hijab, according to state television.
The death toll – which the broadcaster described as “unofficial” – is higher than the figure confirmed by authorities and state-affiliated news agencies, which reported at least 16 dead, including nine members of the security forces, in the most violent unrest since 2019 protests over fuel prices.
IranPresident Ebrahim Raisi, speaking by telephone on Saturday to the family of one of the security personnel who was killed, called the protests “riots and viciousness” and said he urged the authorities to “decisively deal with those who disturb the life of the country”. security and peace”.
Amnesty International said there had been “a harrowing pattern of Iranian security forces deliberately and unlawfully firing live ammunition at protesters”.
Protests erupted across the country following the death of a 22-year-old woman of Kurdish origin, Mahsa Amini, after being arrested by vice squad for allegedly breaking the Islamic dress code for women.
Many Iranians do not believe the official account of her death and claim she was beaten while in custody before falling into a coma and dying in hospital four days later. Authorities denied the allegations and released CCTV footage showing Amini entering the police station.
They said medical examinations revealed no skull fractures, while her family doctor said brain surgery when she was eight could have left her vulnerable to stress. Her family insists she was in good health when taken into custody.
While protests continued across Iran on Saturday evening, including in parts of the capital Tehran, they have narrowed significantly as the official crackdown intensifies.
The protests reached their peak on Wednesday evening when, according to Amnesty, 19 people died in clashes between protesters and riot police.
Tasnim news agency, affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said at least 1,200 protesters had been arrested. National media said journalists, political activists and university students were among those arrested.
After Iranian authorities cut off access to Instagram and WhatsApp in a bid to prevent coordination among protesters, the US Treasury Department announced on Friday that it would allow tech companies “to offer the Iranian people more ‘options of secure external platforms and services’. .
While some of the protesters have called for regime change, commentators don’t believe the latest unrest poses a major threat to the government. “Iranians in general are in no mood for regime change,” said a reformist politician.
But Iranians were struck by the bravery of those who took to the streets, many of whom are women, either the same age as Amini or even younger.
A teenage girl from the northern town of Babol was shown in a video that went viral standing on a platform in the street, refusing to wear her hijab. Confronted by the morality police, she said, “I am well dressed” when she was not wearing her headscarf. Many female protesters burned their scarves and came face to face with riot police without their hijabs.
“I am shocked and amazed when I see these young girls and boys who are not afraid of anything, even bullets,” said Ali, a 45-year-old businessman. “This is a new reality facing the Islamic republic.”