Protests flared again in Iran on Saturday over the death of a woman while in the custody of the so-called morality police, despite a crackdown by security forces in which dozens of people have died, according to official figures.
The main reformist party in Iran called for the repeal of the mandatory Islamic dress code that Mahsa Amini had been accused of breaching, as the protests over her death entered the ninth night.
The New York Times labeled the protests the largest the country has witnessed since 2009 when demonstrations broke out in response to the reelection of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a vote seen by many as fraudulent.
Web monitor NetBlocks reported that Skype was now restricted in Iran, amid a crackdown on communications that has already targeted the last accessible international platforms Instagram, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn.
Hundreds of angry demonstrators have been arrested, along with reformist activists and journalists.
Twenty-two-year-old Amini was pronounced dead after spending three days in a coma following her arrest by the morality police.
— IranProtests.com (@IranProtestsCom) September 24, 2022
State television said the death toll had risen to 41. It aired footage of “rioters” on the streets in north and west Tehran as well as “some provinces,” and said they had set fire to public and private property.
Oslo-based Iran Human Rights put the death toll at 54, excluding security personnel. It said that in many cases authorities had made the return of bodies to families contingent on them agreeing to secret burials.
The group said most of the deaths had come in the Caspian Sea provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran.
Hundreds of people have been arrested, with Gilan police chief announcing “the arrest of 739 rioters, including 60 women” in that province alone.
Protests broke out again on Saturday night in the Gilan provincial capital Rasht as well as in various parts of Tehran, according to videos posted on social media.
Anti-riot police deployed in northern Tehran in large numbers after night-fall, witnesses told AFP.
One viral video, purportedly from Saturday evening, showed a woman defiantly swinging her headscarf above her head as she walked in the middle of a Tehran street.
— Golnaz Esfandiari (@GEsfandiari) September 23, 2022
Security forces have also arrested reformist activists and journalists, with Sherif Mansour of US-based media watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reporting that 17 had been detained since the protests began.
They included Niloufar Hamedi of the reformist newspaper Shargh, who reported on Amini’s death.
Militia bases attacked
Elsewhere, the Norway-based Kurdish rights group Hengaw said protesters “took control” of parts of the town of Oshnaviyeh, in West Azerbaijan province.
An official from the town claimed in an interview that: “Since last night, Oshnaviyeh has been governed by the people.”
Iran’s judiciary said that “rioters attacked three Basij bases” in Oshnaviyeh, referring to the state-sanctioned Islamic militia. But it denied the security forces had lost control of the town.
In the northeastern city of Quchan, an Iranian army general, Moslem Javid Mehr, was killed in clashes with demonstrators.
Ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to deal “decisively” with those behind the violence in a phone call Saturday with the family of a Basij militia officer, Mohammad Rasoul Doost Mohammadi, who was killed in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
His comment came after Amnesty International warned of “the risk of further bloodshed amid a deliberately imposed internet blackout.”
The London-based human rights group said the evidence it gathered from 20 cities pointed to “a harrowing pattern of Iranian security forces deliberately and unlawfully firing live ammunition at protesters.”
Amini died on September 16 following her arrest by Iran’s morality police, a unit responsible for enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women.
Activists said she suffered a blow to the head in custody but this has not been confirmed by the Iranian authorities, who have opened an investigation.
The Union of Islamic Iran People’s Party, the main reformist group in Iran, called for the repeal of the mandatory dress code and the winding down of the morality police.
The party, which is led by former aides of reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami who oversaw a thaw with the West between 1997 and 2005, also called on the government to “authorize peaceful demonstrations” and release those detained in recent days.
Thousands took part in government-backed counter-rallies in defense of the dress code on Friday.
Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi insisted Amini had not been beaten. He said Iran was still investigating the cause of her death, adding: “We must wait for the final opinion of the medical examiner, which takes time.”
Amnesty dismissed the Iranian probe and called on the world to take “meaningful action” against the bloody crackdown.
“UN member states must go beyond toothless statements, hear the cries for justice from victims and human rights defenders in Iran, and urgently set up an independent UN investigative mechanism,” said Heba Morayef, its director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Iran has imposed tough restrictions on the use of the internet in a bid to hamper protesters gathering and stop the flow of images of the backlash from reaching the outside world.
The United States announced Friday it was easing export restrictions on Iran to help expand internet services for its people.