Iranian police on Monday denied they played a role in the death of a young Kurdish woman while in their custody in Tehran last week, calling the incident “unfortunate,” as protesters rallied against the alleged abuse.
The case of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained last Tuesday after Iran’s so-called “morality police” found fault with her headscarf, or hijab, has set off a public outcry in the country.
Police said that Amini died of a heart attack, but activists claim she suffered a blow to the head while in custody. According to Amini’s father, who spoke on Sunday to the reformist Emtedad news site, his daughter was healthy and did not have any prior medical issues.
Greater Tehran Police Commander Hossein Rahimi denied on Monday that Amini faced abuse while being held by the authorities, in a statement reported by the semi-official Fars news agency.
“Cowardly accusations have been leveled against the Iranian police. We will wait until the day of judgment but we cannot stop doing security work,” he said and gave his backing to the morality police.
Iranian police fired tear gas to disperse a protest on Sunday in the western city of Sanandaj, the capital of Iran’s Kurdistan province, where hundreds rallied to decry the death of Amini.
— Alireza Nader علیرضا نادر (@AlirezaNader) September 18, 2022
The Fars news agency reported late Sunday that police also arrested several people from about 500 protesters who had gathered on Sunday at Azadi Square in Sanandaj.
Fars said the protesters smashed car windows and set fire to street garbage cans. The agency’s website carried a brief video showing scores of men and women protesting, claiming the police’s explanation about Amini’s death was “not reasonable.”
Amini was buried on Saturday in her home city of Saqez, also in western Iran. Protests erupted there after her funeral and police fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.
After Amini’s death, police last week also released closed circuit footage from the police station, which they say shows the moment Amini collapsed. A relative has said she had no history of heart disease.
Iran’s judiciary has launched an investigation into the case.
The headscarf has been compulsory for women in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and members of the morality police enforce the strict dress code. The force has been criticized in recent years for its treatment of people, especially young women.
Since 2017, after dozens of women publicly took off their headscarves in a wave of protests, authorities have adopted tougher measures.