Iran protests spread, death toll rises as internet curbed – Middle East and Africa

Reuters

Tehran, Iran ‚óŹ
Thu, September 22, 2022

2022-09-22
12:41

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Middle East and Africa
Iran, protest, death, hijab, Ayatullah-Khameini
Free

Iranian authorities and a Kurdish rights group on Wednesday reported rising death tolls as anger over the death of a woman arrested by morality police fueled protests for a fifth day and new restrictions on social media were imposed.

Iranian media and a local prosecutor said four people were killed in the past two days, bringing the total death toll to eight, including a police officer and a pro-government militia member, according to official sources.

Demonstrations erupted last week over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old from Iranian Kurdistan, who was arrested in Tehran for “unsuitable clothing”.

The protests, which have focused on Iran’s Kurdish-populated northwestern regions but have spread to at least 50 cities across the country, are the largest since a wave of demonstrations in 2019 over rising fuel prices.

Reports from the Kurdish rights group Hengaw, which Reuters could not verify, said 10 protesters had been killed. Three died Wednesday, in addition to the seven people the group said were killed by security forces.

Officials have denied that security forces killed protesters and suspect they may have been shot dead by armed dissidents.

With no sign of the protests abating, authorities restricted access to the internet, according to reports from Hengaw, residents and internet shutdown observatory NetBlocks.

Internet curbs

Activists expressed concern that the internet shutdown reflected a move by the government ahead of a crackdown on the 2019 fuel price protests Reuters reported that 1,500 people were killed.

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NetBlocks and residents said access had been restricted to Instagram — the only major social media platform Iran normally allows and which has millions of users — and that some cellphone networks had been shut down.

“Iran is now subject to the toughest internet restrictions since the November 2019 massacre,” NetBlocks said.

WhatsApp users said they could only send text, not images, while Hengaw said access to the internet had been blocked in Kurdistan province – moves that would prevent videos from being shared from a region where authorities had previously seen civil unrest Kurdish minority had oppressed.

Meta Platforms, the owner of Instagram and WhatsApp, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Amini’s death unleashed anger over issues such as the Islamic Republic’s freedoms and a sanctions-racked economy. Women have featured prominently in the protests, waving their veils and burning them, some cutting their hair in public.

Amini fell into a coma while being held by morality police, which enforces strict rules in Iran requiring women to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothing in public. Her funeral was on Saturday.

Her father said she had no health problems and suffered bruises on her legs while in detention. He blames the police for her death. Police have denied harming her.

A senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei this week offered his condolences to Amini’s family and promised to follow up the case, saying Khamenei was distressed by her death.

Activists said they feared an escalating crackdown. “We are concerned that once the regime shuts down the internet – which is already happening – the world will forget about Iran,” an activist told Reuters.

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The Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the elite Revolutionary Guards, circulated videos accusing protesters of setting fire to a mosque, an Islamic shrine and buses, attacking a bank and removing the veil from a woman.

Such allegations against dissidents preceded violent crackdowns on protests dating back to riots in 2009.

“We are receiving warnings from security organizations to end the protests or face jail,” said an activist in northwestern Kurdistan province.

Fars said on Wednesday a member of the Basij, a militia under the umbrella of the Revolutionary Guards, was killed in the northwestern city of Tabriz, while officials said IRNA News agency said a “police assistant” succumbed to his injuries on Tuesday in the southern city of Shiraz.

A prosecutor in Kermanshah said two people were killed in riots on Tuesday, blaming armed dissidents for killing the victims with weapons not used by police. Meanwhile, Kurdistan’s police chief earlier this week confirmed four deaths in the province, blaming “gangs” for their deaths.

Hengaw said 450 people were injured in addition to the 10 protesters who died in protests mostly in the northwest. Reuters could not independently confirm the accident reports.

Videos shared on social media showed protesters damaging symbols of the Islamic Republic and confronting security forces.

One showed a man scaling the facade of City Hall in the northern city of Sari and tearing down a picture of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic after the 1979 revolution.

On Wednesday in Tehran, hundreds at Tehran University shouted “Death to the dictator,” a video shared by 1500tasvir showed. Reuters could not confirm the authenticity of the video.

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