Clashes, global protests flare over death of Iranian woman Mahsa Amini
Amini died following arrest by morality police for 'unsuitable attire' earlier this month
Iranian riot police and security forces clashed with demonstrators in dozens of cities on Tuesday, state media and social media said, amid continuing protests over the death of a young Iranian woman in police custody.
Mahsa Amini, 22, from the Iranian Kurdish city of Saqez, was arrested earlier this month in Tehran for "unsuitable attire" by the morality police who enforce the Islamic Republic's strict dress code.
She died three days later in hospital after falling into a coma, sparking the first big show of opposition on Iran's streets since authorities crushed protests against a rise in gasoline prices in 2019.
Despite a growing death toll and a fierce crackdown by authorities using tear gas, clubs and, in some cases, live ammunition, videos posted on social media showed protesters calling for the fall of the clerical establishment while clashing with security forces in Tehran, Tabriz, Karaj, Qom, Yazd and many other Iranian cities.
State media branded the protesters "hypocrites, rioters, thugs and seditionists," while state television said police clashed with "rioters" in some cities and fired tear gas to disperse them.
Videos posted on social media from inside Iran showed protesters chanting, "Women, life, freedom," while women waved and burned their veils and cut off their hair.
Videos on Twitter showed protesters chanting "Death to the dictator," a reference to Iran's top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In the Kurdish cities of Sanandaj and Sardasht, riot police fired at protesters, Twitter videos showed.
"I will kill those who killed my sister," chants of protesters could be heard in one of the videos from Tehran, while activist Twitter account 1500tasvir said: "The streets have become battlefields."
The videos and statements on social media could not be verified by Reuters.
Lawmaker slams protesters
Further videos on social media showed protests continuing in dozens of cities after nightfall on Tuesday. "Continuing shootings can be heard in Chabahar, Sistan and Baluchestan," 1500tasvir said on Twitter.
State media also reported the arrest of women's rights activist Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, the daughter of a former Iranian president and founder of the Islamic Republic, for "inciting riots" in Tehran.
To make it difficult for protesters to post videos on social media, authorities have restricted internet access in several provinces, according to Internet blockage observatory NetBlocks and sources in Iran.
On Tuesday, a hard-line Iranian lawmaker slammed female protesters who have taken off mandatory headscarves as prostitutes, doubling down on the government stance amid the dramatic demonstrations.
The harsh language by Mahmoud Nabavian, a legislator from Tehran, was in sharp contrast to the appeal by a top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamadani, who on Sunday urged the government to listen to the people's demands.
"These rioters are out to prostitute themselves," Nabavian was quoted as saying by the news website Fararu. He suggested that taking off the hijab, or headscarf, was akin to being naked in public to attract male attention.
Nabavian blamed both women and men taking part in the protests, saying they were guilty of "impurities" that need to be washed away.
Hamadani's tone was starkly different.
"It is necessary for officials to listen to people's demands and solve their problems and be sensitive to their rights," said the senior cleric, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
Hundreds reportedly arrested
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Iranian authorities to "fully respect the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association."
In a statement, Ravina Shamdasani said that reports indicated "hundreds have also been arrested, including human rights defenders, lawyers, civil society activists and at least 18 journalists."
"Thousands have joined anti-government demonstrations throughout the country over the past 11 days. Security forces have responded at times with live ammunition," the statement said.
Officials said 41 people, including members of the police and a pro-government militia, had died during the protests.
Meanwhile, the Iranian human rights group Hengaw said 18 people had been killed, 898 injured and more than 1,000 Kurdish protesters arrested in the last 10 days, but estimated that the real figures were higher.
"Between Monday and Friday, more than 70 women have been arrested in Iran's Kurdistan.… At least four of them are under age 18," Hengaw said Tuesday.
Iran's judiciary has set up special courts to try "rioters," according to state media.
Social media posts, along with some activists, have called for a nationwide strike. Several university teachers, celebrities and prominent soccer players have supported the protests against Amini's death, according to statements published by them on social media.
Students in several universities have refused to participate in classes. They staged protests against the widespread arrest of students and forceful encounters with security forces in universities.
Amini's death has drawn widespread international condemnation, and solidarity protests have erupted in Europe, the United States and in parts of the Middle East. In a predominantly Kurdish city in Syria, thousands of women took to the streets Monday, holding posters with Amini's photo.
Meanwhile, Iran has blamed "thugs" linked to "foreign enemies" for stirring up unrest. Tehran has accused the U.S. and some European countries of using the unrest to try to destabilize the Islamic Republic.
With files from The Associated Press