Anger spreads across the country after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini dies in ‘morality police’ custody
The ferocity of the protests is fueled by anger at many things at once: allegations that Amini was beaten in custody before collapsing and falling into a coma; The priorities of the Iranian government, led by ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi, who has strictly enforced dress codes and empowered the hated morality police at a time of widespread economic hardship; and the suffering of the Amini family, ethnic Kurds from a rural area of Iran, whose expressions of pain and shock reverberate across the country.
Her family, who could not understand how she had attracted the attention of the police, said that Amini did not have any health problems that would explain her death. “Even a 60-year-old woman is not covered as much as a Mahsa,” her father, Amjad Amini, said in an interview with an Iranian news outlet.
Rights groups say at least seven people have been killed in the demonstrations, the largest in Iran since protests erupted in 2019 to stop fuel subsidies. In those protests, like the ones now rocking the country, the authorities responded by cutting off internet access and in some cases resorting to the use of lethal force, including live ammunition.
Videos show protesters, some of whom speak Kurdish, taking to the streets in Kamiyaran and Abdanan, near Iran’s border with Iraq. Many of the protests have centered on the West, the impoverished Kurdish-majority region from which the Amini family hails. The Kurds – who speak their own language, have a distinct cultural identity and are mostly Sunni Muslims in a Shiite-majority country – have complained for decades about central government neglect.
Large demonstrations also erupted in two Iranian cities considered holy by Shiites and attract tens of millions of pilgrims each year. “Cannons, tanks and missiles, the clergy must be lost,” protesters chanted in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city and site of the Imam Reza shrine. They gathered on Ahmedabad Street, a main road, where a fire could be seen from afar. In a video clip from Qom, the center for religious studies, protesters walk down the street, clapping and throwing stones. Someone shouted “Hit him!” as the crowd moved forward.
The protests quickly reached the capital, where video footage showed protesters gathering in Vali Al-Asr, a main square in central Tehran. “Shameful, shameful” people shout as they are sprayed with water cannons mounted on an armored police vehicle. Another video from central Tehran shows students at Amir Kabir University of Technology chanting, “Death to the dictator” – a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Anger has mounted on universities in recent months over the government’s strict enforcement of headscarf rules. Students who protest risk being arrested or put on a blacklist that threatens their academic progress.
The protests have spread far beyond the capital and Iran’s traditionally volatile regions. In a video clip from Kerman, in southeastern Iran, a young woman sitting on an utility box, surrounded by a cheering crowd, is seen removing her headscarf and cutting her hair. “An Iranian will die, but he will not accept injustice,” the crowd chanted. In Sari, near the Caspian Sea, a woman dances around a small fire, then throws her headdress into the flames.
Another video from Rasht, also on the Caspian Sea, shows a crowd of young men huddled around a police officer, using what appears to be a type of stun gun. Within seconds, the crowd attacked and pushed the officer to the ground and hit him. With the sound of bullets, the demonstrators fled.