The head of Tehran’s so-called “morality police” has reportedly been suspended during an investigation launched in the wake of the death of a young woman in police custody.
Public anger has grown since authorities on Friday announced the death of Mahsa Amini, following her arrest by the police unit for allegedly not covering her hair correctly with a headscarf, or hijab, which is mandatory for women in Iran.
According to Iranian reports on Monday, Col. Ahmed Mirzaei, the head of the moral security police of Greater Tehran, was suspended after the death of the 22-year-old Amini.
Tehran police denied the reports.
Amini died in hospital after three days in a coma. Police say she died of a heart attack and deny that she was mistreated.
But her family says she had no history of heart trouble and was “in perfect health.” Amjad Amini, her father also criticized the “slow response” of the emergency services, saying, “I believe Mahsa was transferred to the hospital late.”
Amini’s death comes amid growing controversy both inside and outside Iran over the conduct of the morality police, known formally as the Gasht-e Ershad, or “Guidance Patrol.”
An Iranian lawmaker made a rare public stand Tuesday to criticize the controversial “morality police,” local media reported.
Jalal Rashidi Koochi, a member of parliament, told the ISNA news agency that “Gasht-e Ershad is wrong because it has had no result except loss and damage for the country,” adding that “the main problem is that some people resist accepting the truth.”
Koochi questioned if the current policy of enforcing those breaking dress regulations was effective.
“Do the people who are taken to these explanatory classes by the Guidance Patrol become conscious and repent when they come out?” Koochi said, ISNA reported.
The United Nations on Tuesday descried the death in custody of Amini as well as the violent crackdown on the protests over her death.
“Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif today expressed alarm at the death in custody of Mahsa Amini… and the violent response by security forces to ensuing protests,” the rights office said in a statement.
There are reports that the 22-year-old was “beaten on the head with a baton, and her head was banged against the vehicle by the so-called morality police,” the UN statement said.
UN rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani also told reporters that Iranian security forces had reportedly responded to the massive protests that erupted over Amini’s death “with live ammunition.”
As many as five people were known to have died in that crackdown, she said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said that witness accounts and videos circulating on social media “indicate that authorities are using teargas to disperse protesters and have apparently used lethal force in Kurdistan province.”
“Cracking down with teargas and lethal force against protesters demanding accountability for a woman’s death in police custody reinforces the systematic nature of government rights abuses and impunity,” said Tara Sepehri Far, HRW’s senior Iran researcher.
Troops opened fire on demonstrators in Iran’s Kurdish region, according to a Norway-based Kurdish group, the Hengaw Human Rights Organization.
Two of the killings occurred in Amini’s home city of Saqez. The other protesters were killed in the towns of Divandarreh and Dehgolan, the group said. The group also reported 75 people wounded and at least 250 arrests in a number of cities.
The rights organization posted videos and photos it said showed fatalities, injuries and arrests during the third day of demonstrations in the Kurdish cities in western Iran.
— Hengaw Organization for Human Rights (@Hengaw_English) September 19, 2022
Protesters are taking to the streets around the country, particularly in the Kurdish region. There are between 8 million and 10 million Iranian Kurds.
Amini was buried Saturday in her hometown Saqez. Protests erupted there after her funeral and police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators on Saturday and Sunday. Several protesters were arrested.
On Sunday, police made arrests and fired tear gas in Amini’s home province of Kurdistan, where some 500 people had protested, some smashing car windows and torching rubbish bins.
On Monday, demonstrations were held in Tehran, including in several universities, and the second city Mashhad, according to the Fars and Tasnim news agencies.
Protesters in Tehran were dispersed by “police using batons and tear gas,” according to the Fars news agency.
“Several hundred people chanted slogans against the authorities, some of them took off their hijab (headscarves),” Fars said.
Witnesses said demonstrators poured into Tehran’s Keshavarz Boulevard, a central thoroughfare, chanting, “Death to the dictator.” They also chanted against the police and damaged a police vehicle. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns.
Late on Monday, reporters saw torched trash bins and rocks strewn across some downtown intersections as the smell of tear gas hovered in the air. Police closed roads leading to the central Vali-e Asr square. Plainclothes security forces and groups of riot police could be seen throughout the area, and mobile internet service was down in central Tehran.
A brief video released by Fars showed a crowd of several dozen people, including women who had removed their headscarves, shouting, “Death to the Islamic Republic!”
A “similar gathering” took place in the northeastern city of Mashhad, the Tasnim agency reported.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, who departed for New York on Monday to address the UN General Assembly, has ordered an investigation and vowed to pursue the case in a phone call with Amini’s family. The judiciary has launched a probe, and a parliamentary committee is also looking into the incident.
The hijab has been compulsory for women in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the morality police are charged with enforcing that and other restrictions. The force has been criticized in recent years, especially over its treatment of young women.