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Iran: Unrest over woman’s death escalates, 31 civilians dead; US imposes sanctions on morality police

The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on Iran's morality police accusing it of abuse and violence against Iranian women and of violating the rights of peaceful Iranian protesters.

Kurdish women activists hold headscarfs and a portrait of Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, with Arabic that reads, "The woman is life, don't kill the life," during a protest against her death in Iran, at Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (AP)

Iranian security forces on Thursday continued their crackdown on citizens protesting over the death of a 22-year-old woman after her arrest by the morality police, with at least 31 civilians losing their lives since the violent clashes erupted, reported news agency AFP.

Even as Iran continues to be at the centre of global criticism and nationwide protests, the country’s Revolutionary Guards called on the Islamic Republic’s judiciary to prosecute “those who spread false news and rumours” about the woman whose death in police custody has triggered the protests.

Protesters in Tehran and other Iranian cities torched police stations and vehicles earlier in the day as public outrage over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, last week showed no signs of easing.

Amini, who was arrested by Iran’s morality police for wearing “unsuitable attire”, was tortured during the custody and died three days later, according to media reports. The Iranian police, however, have denied mistreating Amini and said she died of a heart attack. Authorities say they are investigating the incident.

Apart from expressing sympathy with the family and relatives of Amini, the Guards said in a statement, “We have requested the judiciary to identify those who spread false news and rumours on social media as well as on the street and who endanger the psychological safety of society and to deal with them decisively.”

Meanwhile, the United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police, accusing it of abuse and violence against Iranian women and of violating the rights of peaceful Iranian protesters, the U.S. Treasury said. The Treasury added that it had put sanctions on the heads of the Iranian army’s ground forces and of the morality police as well as on Iran’s minister of intelligence. It held the morality police responsible for Amini’s death.

The protests have escalated in the last four days into an open challenge to the government, with women removing their state-mandated headscarves in the streets and Iranians setting trash bins ablaze and calling for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself. “Death to the dictator!” has been a common cry in the protests.

The protests over Amini’s death are the biggest in the Islamic Republic since 2019, suggest foreign media reports.

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Most of the demonstrations have been concentrated in Iran’s Kurdish-populated northwest but have spread to its capital Tehran and at least 50 cities and towns nationwide, with police using force to disperse protesters.

Security personnel dead, wounded

Nour news, a media outlet affiliated with a top security body, on Thursday shared a video of an army officer confirming the death of a soldier in the unrest, bringing the total reported number of security force members killed in the unrest to five.

An official from Mazandaran said 76 members of the security forces were injured in the province during the unrest while the police commander of Kurdistan announced more than 100 security personnel were wounded.

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Protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic's "morality police", in Tehran People light a fire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic’s “morality police”, in Tehran, Iran September 21, 2022. (Reuters)

Internet shutdowns

To avoid the protests from intensifying further, authorities have imposed curbs on internet across the country. According to internet monitoring group Netblocks, Iran is now subject to the most severe internet restrictions since the November 2019 massacre, with Mobile networks largely shut down (MCI, Rightel, Irancell – partial) and restrictions on Instagram and WhatsApp.

Worldwide criticism

The United Nations human rights office has called for an investigation into Amini’s death. The UN body said Iran’s morality police have expanded their patrols in recent months, targeting women for not properly wearing hijab, the Islamic headscarf. It added that verified videos show women being slapped in the face, struck with batons and thrown into police vans for wearing the hijab too loosely.

The United States, which is trying to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, called on the Islamic Republic to end its “systemic 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.

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(Inputs from Reuters, AP)

First published on: 22-09-2022 at 10:02:24 pm
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