Iranian protesters call for 3-day strike starting Monday
Iran reports 200 dead in unrest since Mahsa Amini's death, but activists say 470
Protesters in Iran called a three-day strike this week as they seek to maintain pressure on authorities over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, with protests planned on the day President Ebrahim Raisi is due to address students in Tehran.
Raisi is expected to visit Tehran University on Wednesday, celebrated in Iran as Student Day.
To coincide with Student Day, protesters are calling for strikes by merchants and a rally toward Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) Square, according to individual posts shared on Twitter by accounts unverified by Reuters.
They have also called for three days of boycotting any economic activity starting on Monday.
Similar calls for strike action and mass mobilization have in past weeks resulted in an escalation in the unrest that has swept the country — some of the biggest anti-government protests since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The activist HRANA news agency said 470 protesters had been killed as of Saturday, including 64 minors. It said 18,210 demonstrators have been arrested and 61 members of the security forces killed.
Iran's Interior Ministry state security council said on Saturday that the death toll was 200, according to the judiciary's news agency Mizan.
The nationwide protests began after Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman, died in the custody of Iran's morality police on Sept. 16, after she was detained for violating the hijab restrictions governing how women dress.
Confusion over status of morality police force
The status of the police force was unclear Sunday, a day after the semi-official news agency ISNA reported comments from Iran's chief prosecutor Mohamed Jafar Montazeri suggesting the morality police "had been closed."
Montazeri, the chief prosecutor, provided no further details about the future of the morality police or whether its closure was nationwide and permanent. However he added that Iran's judiciary will "continue to monitor behaviour at the community level."
The police force was established in 2005 with the task of arresting people who violate the country's Islamic dress code. Since September, there has been a reported decline in the number of morality police officers across Iranian cities and an increase in women walking in public without headscarves, contrary to Iranian law.
In a report by ISNA on Friday, Montazeri was quoted as saying that the government was reviewing the mandatory hijab law.
"We are working fast on the issue of hijab and we are doing our best to come up with a thoughtful solution to deal with this phenomenon that hurts everyone's heart," said Montazeri, without offering details.
There was no confirmation of the reported closure from the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the morality police, and Iranian state media said Montazeri was not responsible for overseeing the force.
In a report carried by ISNA on Sunday, lawmaker Nezamoddin Mousavi signalled a less confrontational approach toward the protests.
"Both the administration and parliament insisted that paying attention to the people's demand that is mainly economic is the best way for achieving stability and confronting the riots," he said, following a closed meeting with several senior Iranian officials, including President Ebrahim Raisi.
Protests ongoing since September
The anti-government demonstrations, now in their third month, have shown no sign of stopping despite a violent crackdown.
Protesters are saying they are fed up after decades of social and political repression, including a strict dress code imposed on women. Young women continue to play a leading role in the protests, stripping off the mandatory Islamic headscarf to express their rejection of clerical rule.
After the outbreak of the protests, the Iranian government hadn't appeared willing to heed the protesters' demands. It has continued to crack down on protesters, including sentencing at least seven arrested protesters to death. Authorities continue to blame the unrest on hostile foreign powers, without providing evidence.
But in recent days, Iranian state media platforms seemed to be adopting a more conciliatory tone, expressing a desire to engage with the problems of the Iranian people.
With files from The Associated Press