Seven killed in Iranian protests over hijab

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At least seven people have been killed in protests across Iran, officials said, as thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent days in anger at the death of a young woman arrested for her alleged failure to properly observe the Islamic dress code.

Protests continued in towns and cities across the republic on Wednesday. Iranians struggled to get access to the internet and Instagram, where videos of security officials attacking demonstrators had been circulating in recent days.

Officials blamed foreign and opposition forces for the deaths, which included one member of the Iranian security forces.

Kurdistan police chief Brigadier-General Ali Azadi confirmed four protesters have been killed in the province since Saturday. “Hostile groups have committed these crimes,” Azadi told Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. “We urged the youth not to take part in the gatherings as we had had credible information that these groups had infiltrated [into protests].

Shahram Karami, the prosecutor of the western Kermanshah province, said two protesters were killed by anti-regime opposition forces and that the bullets used to kill them were not the ones used by Iran’s security forces.

“We urge families in Kermanshah to prevent their youth from taking part in these gatherings,” he said, according to the semi-official Mehr News Agency. “They emotionally get into these gatherings but the anti-revolution forces seek to create death cases [to fan the crisis].”

The governor of Kurdistan province, Esmaeil Zare’i Kousha, said the protesters there had been “killed by the enemies of the system and with weapons which are not used by any of our security and military forces,” according to Mehr News Agency.

“This is definitely the foreign enemy’s scenario as their details and pictures were immediately broadcast on [opposition] satellite channels.”

In the city of Shiraz, one security official was killed, the city’s governor told the state news agency, IRNA, and four others were injured. Lotfollah Sheibani added that 15 protesters were arrested on Tuesday night. Police in the northern province of Gilan said 68 protesters were arrested, while 43 security forces were injured.

Amnesty International said on Wednesday that security forces used birdshot and other metal pellets, tear gas, water cannon, and beatings with batons to disperse protesters. 

The group said six men, one woman and one child died during protests in the provinces of Kurdistan, Kermanshah and West Azerbaijan. “Of these, at least four died from injuries sustained from security forces firing metal pellets at close range,” it added. 

The protests were sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old from the Kurdish town of Saqqez. She was arrested last week by the morality police, a branch of the Iranian force that seeks to promote virtue. She wore a long black coat and scarf, but arresting officers said her clothing was not appropriate. She collapsed at the morality police centre in central Tehran, went into a coma and died on Friday.

The country-wide protests are one of the few demonstrations against the wearing of the hijab since the 1979 revolution that created the theocratic state. Women have burnt their scarves during protests with some calling for the abolition of the compulsory hijab.

Demonstrations on Tehran university campuses continued on Wednesday, according to videos posted on social media. “We will kill anyone who killed our sister,” students in the Science and Research Branch of the Islamic Azad University chanted.

The governor of Tehran province said on Wednesday that intelligence suggested that about 1,800 of the protesters in the capital on Monday “had records of taking part in previous gatherings and riots” and that 700 of them already had “heavy judicial files”. Mohsen Mansouri alleged in his post on Twitter that foreign embassies and intelligence services were also involved.

Iran’s minister of culture, Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili, said on Wednesday that they were already considering changing the morality police before Amini’s death. “We recognise criticisms . . . and many of the existing problems will be addressed,” he told local reporters.

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