Anger has spread across the country following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the “moral police”.
The furor of the protests is fueled by outrage over many things at once: claims that Amini was beaten in custody before collapsing and going into a coma; the priorities of the Iranian government, led by ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi, who has strictly enforced the dress code and bolstered the hated morality police at a time of widespread economic woes; and the fear of Amini’s family, ethnic Kurds from rural Iran, whose expressions of pain and shock have resonated across the country.
Amini has no health problems to explain her death, her family said, who couldn’t understand how she had piqued the interest of the police. “Even a 60-year-old woman was not covered like Mahsa was,” her father, Amjad Amini, said in an interview with an Iranian news agency.
Rights groups say at least seven people have been killed in the demonstrations, the largest in Iran since protests erupted in 2019 over fuel subsidy cuts. In these protests, like those now shaking the country, authorities have responded by disrupting internet service and, in some cases, resorting to the use of deadly force, including live ammunition.
Videos show protesters, some speaking Kurdish, taking to the streets in Kamyaran and Abdanan near Iran’s border with Iraq. Many of the protests are centered in the west, the poor, mostly Kurdish region where Amini’s family comes from. The Kurds — who speak their own language, have a strong cultural identity, and are largely Sunni Muslims in a Shia-majority country — have complained of decades of central government neglect.
Large demonstrations also erupted in two Iranian cities considered sacred by Shia Muslims, which attract tens of millions of pilgrims each year. “Guns, tanks and rockets, the clerics must go,” chanted demonstrators in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city and site of Imam Reza’s revered shrine. They gathered on Ahmadabad Street, a main thoroughfare, where a fire could be seen in the distance. In a video from Qom, a center for religious studies, demonstrators march through the street, whistling and some throwing stones. “Hit him,” someone yells as the crowd presses forward.
The protests quickly reached the capital, with video showing protesters gathering in Vali-e Asr, a large square in downtown Tehran. “Dishonorable, dishonorable,” people shout as they are sprayed with water cannons mounted on an armored police vehicle. Another video from central Tehran shows students at Amirkabir University of Technology chanting “Death to the Dictator” – a reference to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Anger has been building at universities in recent months at the government’s increasingly strict enforcement of hijab rules. Students who protest risk arrest or blacklisting that threatens their academic advancement.
The protests have spread far beyond the capital and traditionally troubled areas of Iran. In a video from Kerman, southeastern Iran, a young woman is seen sitting on a supply box surrounded by a cheering crowd, removing her headscarf and cutting her hair. “An Iranian will die, but will not accept oppression,” chanted the crowd. In Sari, near the Caspian Sea, a woman dances around a small bonfire and then throws her headscarf into the flames.
Another video from Rasht, also by the Caspian Sea, shows a group of young men crowding around a police officer who appears to be wielding some kind of stun gun. Within seconds, the crowd charges in, pinning the police officer to the ground and beating him up. When shots are fired, the demonstrators flee.