Anger spreads across country after death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in ‘morality police’ custody
The brutality of the protests is fueled by outrage over many things at once: the allegations that Amini was held in custody before collapsing and falling into a coma; the priorities of the Iranian government, led by ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi, which has strictly enforced dress codes and empowered the hated morality police at a time of widespread economic suffering; and the fear of Amini’s family, ethnic Kurds from a rural area of Iran, whose expressions of pain and shock resonated across the country.
Amini had no health problems that would declare her death, said her family, who could not fathom how she attracted the attention of the police. “Even a 60-year-old woman was not covered up as often as Mahsa,” her father, Amjad Amini, said in an interview with an Iranian news channel.
At least seven people have been killed in the demonstrations, according to human rights groups, the largest in Iran since protests broke out in 2019 over the removal of fuel subsidies. In those protests, such as those now shaking the country, authorities responded by shutting down internet services and in some cases resorting to the use of deadly force, including live ammunition.
Videos show protesters, some of whom speak Kurdish, taking to the streets in Kamyaran and Abdanan, near Iran’s border with Iraq. Many of the protests are concentrated in the west, the poor, predominantly Kurdish region where Amini’s family comes from. The Kurds — who speak their own language, have a distinct cultural identity and are primarily Sunni Muslims in a predominantly Shia country — have complained for decades about neglect by the central government.
Large demonstrations also broke out in two Iranian cities considered sacred by Shia Muslims, which draw tens of millions of pilgrims every year. “Guns, tanks and missiles, the clerics must get lost,” protesters chanted in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city and site of the venerated Imam Reza shrine. They gathered on Ahmadabad Street, a major thoroughfare, where a fire could be seen in the distance. In a video from Qom, a center of religious science, protesters march through the street whistling and some throwing stones. “Hit him,” someone yells as the crowd rushes forward.
Protests quickly reached the capital, with a video showing protesters in Vali-e Asr, a large square in central Tehran. “Dishonorable, dishonorable,” they shout, as they are sprayed with water cannons mounted on an armored police vehicle. Another video from central Tehran shows students at Amirkabir University of Technology chanting “Death to the dictator” – a reference to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In recent months, there has been anger in universities over the government’s increasingly strict enforcement of hijab rules. Students who protest risk being arrested or blacklisted threatening their academic progress.
Protests have spread far beyond the capital and traditionally troubled areas of Iran. A video from Kerman, in southeastern Iran, shows a young woman sitting on an electrical box, surrounded by a cheering crowd, taking off her headscarf and cutting her own hair. “An Iranian will die, but will not accept oppression,” the crowd chants. In Sari, near the Caspian Sea, a woman dances around a small bonfire and then throws her headscarf into the flames.
Another video from Rasht, also on the Caspian Sea, shows a crowd of young men crowding around a police officer brandishing what appears to be some sort of tranquilizer gun. Within seconds, the mob attacks, pushing the officer to the ground and hitting him. When shots are fired, the protesters flee.