Pro-hijab demonstrations in Iran as death toll from protests rises

Country rocked by violence since death of woman held for improper use of hijab

TEHERAN - Thousands of people marched through Iran's capital Teheran during a pro-hijab rally on Friday, paying tribute to security forces who have moved to quell a week of protests by what media called "conspirators".

Iran has been rocked by street violence that has claimed the lives of at least 17 people since the death on Sept 16 of Ms Mahsa Amini, who had been detained for wearing the hijab in an "improper" way.

State news agency Irna said thousands of people took to the streets of Teheran on Friday after the main weekly prayers, in response to a call from Iran's Islamic Development Coordination Council.

"The great demonstration of the Iranian people condemning the conspirators and the sacrileges against religion took place today," Iran's Mehr news agency said.

Imam Seyed Ahmad Khatami set the tone for the rallies in his sermon at Teheran University, calling for law enforcement bodies to punish those behind the unrest.

"I strongly urge the judiciary to act quickly against the rioters who brutalise people, set fire to public property, and burn the Quran," he said. Those in attendance held up signs thanking the security forces and condemning women who burnt their hijabs.

State television aired footage of the pro-hijab demonstration, showing people, nearly all men, holding banners marching along streets of central Teheran.

Demonstrations in support of the security forces also took place in several cities across the country.

Ms Amini died on Sept 16, three days after she was hospitalised following her arrest by police responsible for enforcing Iran's strict dress code for women.

Activists said the 22-year-old, whose Kurdish first name is Jhina, suffered a blow to the head in custody but this has not been confirmed by the Iranian authorities, who have opened an investigation.

The official death toll from protests sparked by her death rose to at least 17 on Thursday, including five security personnel, but the New York-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said its sources have put the figure much higher.

"On the 7th day of #IranProtest, officials admit to at least 17 deaths w/ independent sources say 36," the CHRI said in a Twitter post. "Expect the number to rise."

Security forces fired "semi-heavy weapons" at demonstrators during overnight clashes in the northern city of Oshnaviyeh, said the Oslo-based Kurdish rights group Hengaw. In the nearby city of Babol, demonstrators were seen setting ablaze a large billboard bearing the image of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to videos shared online which could not be independently verified.

Since Ms Amini's death, protests have spread to most major urban centres of the country.

Some women demonstrators have defiantly taken off their hijabs and burnt them in bonfires or symbolically cut their hair before cheering crowds, according to video footage on social media.

Access to social media services Instagram and WhatsApp has been blocked since Wednesday night, and Internet connections were still largely disrupted on Friday. The measure was taken in response to "the actions carried out via these social networks by counter-revolutionaries against national security", Iran's Fars news agency said.

President Ebrahim Raisi, at a news conference in New York where he was attending the UN General Assembly, said: "We must differentiate between demonstrators and vandalism".

Meanwhile, the United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on Iran's morality police over allegations of abuse of Iranian women, saying it held the unit responsible for Ms Amini's death.

The US Treasury Department also accused the morality police of violating the rights of peaceful protesters and said it had imposed sanctions on seven senior Iranian military and security officials, including the chief of the Iranian army's ground forces.

Iran's Mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the sanctions.

AFP, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2022, with the headline Pro-hijab demonstrations in Iran as death toll from protests rises. Subscribe