Rights group says at least 76 dead as Iran protests rage despite violent crackdown

Officials say 1,200 arrested, authorities working round the clock to crush dissent sparked by death of 22-year-old Masha Amini while in morality police custody

Sympathizers of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and of the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) take part in a demonstration in support of Iranian protesters near the Iranian Embassy in Vienna, Austria on September 26, 2022. (Joe Klamar/AFP)
Sympathizers of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and of the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) take part in a demonstration in support of Iranian protesters near the Iranian Embassy in Vienna, Austria on September 26, 2022. (Joe Klamar/AFP)

PARIS (AFP) — More than 75 people have been killed in the Iranian authorities’ crackdown against unrest sparked by the death of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in morality police custody, a rights group said Monday.

The authorities last put the death toll at 41, including several members of the security forces.

Officials said Monday they arrested more than 1,200 people as the dragnet widens against the nationwide demonstrations over Amini’s death, following her arrest for allegedly breaching the country’s strict rules on hijab headscarves and modest clothing.

Tensions with Western powers grew as Germany summoned the Iranian ambassador and Canada announced sanctions, a day after the European Union deplored the crackdown and Tehran called in the British and Norwegian envoys.

Protests had flared for a tenth consecutive night on Sunday across Iran. A Tehran crowd shouted “death to the dictator,” calling for the end of more than three decades of rule by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 83, in footage shared by Oslo-based Iran Human Rights (IHR).

The group said at least 76 people have been killed in the crackdown in Iran, up from a previous count of 57.

“Woman, Life, Freedom!” crowds have chanted as female protesters have defiantly thrown their hijabs into bonfires and blazing rubbish dumpsters — a rallying cry that has been echoed at solidarity protests worldwide, including in London and Paris at the weekend.

‘Police on duty 24 hours’

“We call on the international community to decisively and unitedly take practical steps to stop the killing and torture of protesters,” said IHR’s director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam.

Video footage and death certificates obtained by IHR showed that “live ammunition is being directly fired at protesters,” he alleged.

Iranian riot police in black body armor have beaten protesters with truncheons in running street battles, and students have torn down large pictures of the supreme leader and his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in recent video footage published by AFP.

In Iran’s biggest protests in almost three years, security forces have used water cannons but also fired birdshot and live rounds, according to rights groups, while protesters have hurled rocks, torched police cars, and set public buildings ablaze.

Authorities say about 450 people have been arrested in northern Mazandaran province, on top of over 700 reported Saturday in neighboring Gilan, along with dozens in several other regions.

Twenty journalists are among those arrested, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

“Rioters have attacked government buildings and damaged public property,” Mazandaran’s chief prosecutor Mohammad Karimi told official news agency IRNA, charging that they were steered by “foreign anti-revolutionary agents.”

Tehran police have been deployed “24 hours a day” and many have not slept, said the Iranian judiciary chief, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, thanking exhausted officers and the capital’s police chief during a visit to their headquarters Sunday, in a video posted by Mizan Online.

Ejei earlier stressed “the need for decisive action without leniency” against the protest instigators.

But a powerful Shiite cleric long aligned with the country’s ultra-conservative establishment urged authorities to take a softer line.

“The leaders must listen to the demands of the people, resolve their problems and show sensitivity to their rights,” said Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani on Sunday.

Despite sweeping internet restrictions, including blocks on Instagram and WhatsApp, new videos shared widely on social media showed protests Sunday night in Tehran and cities including Yazd, Isfahan, and Bushehr on the Persian Gulf.

Norway-based Kurdish rights group Hengaw said a protest was held in Amini’s hometown of Saqqez “despite a heavy military presence”, and there were reports of a 10-year-old girl being shot and hospitalized in the northern town of Bukan.

Reports said that students at Tehran and Al-Zahra Universities and the Sharif Institute have gone on strike and urged professors to join them.

Tensions with West

The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Sunday slammed Iran for its “widespread and disproportionate use of force against nonviolent protestors.”

He said the EU would “continue to consider all the options at its disposal … to address the killing of Mahsa Amini” and the state response to the protests in Iran, a country already under punishing sanctions over its nuclear program.

Germany on Monday said it had summoned the Iranian ambassador over the crackdown on the protests.

Tehran, for its part, said Sunday it had summoned Britain’s ambassador to protest what it called an “invitation to riots” by London-based Farsi language media and Norway’s envoy over the parliamentary speaker’s “unconstructive comments” on the protests.

The United States last week imposed sanctions against the morality police, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday that his own country would follow suit as part of a sanctions package “on dozens of individuals and entities.”

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