Protests flared again in Iran Saturday over the death of a woman in morality police custody, despite a crackdown by security forces in which at least 41 people have died, according to official figures.
The main reformist party inside Iran called for the repeal of the mandatory Islamic dress code that Mahsa Amini had been accused of breaching as the protests over her death entered their ninth night.
Web monitor NetBlocks reported that Skype was now restricted in Iran, as part of a crackdown on communications that has already targeted the last accessible international platforms Instagram, WhatsApp and LinkedIn.
Hundreds of angry demonstrators have been arrested, along with reformist activists and journalists.
Twenty-two-year-old Amini was pronounced dead after spending three days in a coma following her arrest by the morality police.
State television said the death toll had risen to 41. It aired footage of “rioters” on the streets in north and west Tehran as well as “some provinces”, and said they had set fire to public and private property.
Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights put the death toll at 54, excluding security personnel. It said that in many cases authorities had made the return of bodies to families contingent on them agreeing to secret burials.
The group said most of the deaths had come in the Caspian Sea provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran.
Waves of arrests have been reported, with the Gilan police chief announcing “the arrest of 739 rioters, including 60 women” in that province alone.
Protests broke out again on Saturday night in the Gilan provincial capital Rasht as well as in various parts of Tehran, according to videos posted on social media.
Anti-riot police deployed in northern Tehran in large numbers after night-fall, witnesses told AFP.
One viral video, purportedly from Saturday evening, showed a woman defiantly swinging her headscarf above her head as she walked in the middle of a Tehran street.
Security forces have also arrested reformist activists and journalists, with Sherif Mansour of US-based media watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reporting 17 had been detained since the protests began.
They include Niloufar Hamedi of the reformist newspaper Shargh, who reported on Amini’s death.
- Militia bases attacked –
Elsewhere, the Norway-based Kurdish rights group Hengaw said protesters “took control” of parts of the town of Oshnaviyeh, in West Azerbaijan province.
Iran’s judiciary said “rioters attacked three Basij bases” in Oshnaviyeh, referring to the state-sanctioned Islamic militia. But it denied the security forces had lost control of the town.
Ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to deal “decisively” with those behind the violence in a phone call Saturday with the family of a Basij militiaman killed in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
His comment came after Amnesty International warned of “the risk of further bloodshed amid a deliberately imposed internet blackout”.
The London-based human rights group said evidence it gathered from 20 cities pointed to “a harrowing pattern of Iranian security forces deliberately and unlawfully firing live ammunition at protesters”.
Amini died on September 16 following her arrest by Iran’s morality police, a unit responsible for enforcing the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
Activists said she suffered a blow to the head in custody but this has not been confirmed by the Iranian authorities, who have opened an investigation.
The main reformist group inside Iran, the Union of Islamic Iran People’s Party, called for the repeal of the mandatory dress code and the winding down of the morality police.
The party, which is led by former aides of reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami who oversaw a thaw with the West between 1997 and 2005, also called on the government to “authorise peaceful demonstrations” and release those detained in recent days.
- ‘No beating’ –
Thousands took part in government-backed counter-rallies in defence of the dress code on Friday.
Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi insisted Amini had not been beaten. He said Iran was still investigating the cause of her death, adding: “We must wait for the final opinion of the medical examiner, which takes time”.
Amnesty dismissed the Iranian probe and called on the world to take “meaningful action” against the bloody crackdown.
“UN member states must go beyond toothless statements, hear the cries for justice from victims and human rights defenders in Iran and urgently set up an independent UN investigative mechanism,” said Heba Morayef, its director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Iran has imposed tough restrictions on the use of the internet in a bid to hamper protesters gathering and stop the flow of images of the backlash from reaching the outside world.
The United States announced Friday it was easing export restrictions on Iran to help expand internet services for its people.