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Iran: Three killed in protests over death of Mahsa Amini, says rights group

Fatalities reported in Iran's Kurdish region where security forces alleged to have opened fire during protests over death of woman arrested over hijab
A demonstrator drags a burning motorbike during protests over the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran on 19 September 2022 (AFP)

Three people were killed in Iran's Kurdish region on Monday when security forces opened fire during protests over the death of a woman in police custody, a Kurdish rights group said, on a third day of turmoil over an incident that has ignited nationwide anger.

The rights group, Hengaw, had earlier said five people had been killed.

Hengaw gave the names of three people who it said had been killed during protests in three different cities, including Mahsa Amini's hometown of Saqez. The rights group said a person previously identified as dead was in fact wounded.

There was no official confirmation of the deaths and Middle East Eye could not independently verify the reports.

Amini was visiting Tehran last week when the special police unit that monitors women's clothing arrested her for alleged improper wearing of the headscarf, an item of clothing that is mandatory for women in Iran.

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Tehran police said in a statement on Thursday that, while in custody, Amini had "suddenly suffered from a heart problem" and was "immediately taken to hospital".

On Friday it was announced that she had died there.

While the police said there had been no "physical contact" between Amini and the officers, a number of campaigners said she had been tortured while in custody. Prominent lawyer Saeid Dehghan said Amini had received fractures to her skull and described her death as "murder".

Her father has repeatedly said his daughter had no health problems, adding that she had suffered bruises to her legs. He held the police responsible for her death.

'Death to the dictator!'

In the Kurdish region, Hengaw said there were protests in 13 cities on Monday and that 250 people had been arrested.

The official news agency Irna said there were "limited" protests in a number of cities, including Tehran, in seven provinces that were dispersed by police.

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Tehran Governor Mohsen Mansouri, in a post on Twitter overnight, said "the main elements of tonight's gatherings in Tehran were fully organised, trained and planned to create disturbances in Tehran".

"Burning the flag, pouring diesel on the roads, throwing stones, attacking the police, setting fire to motorcycles and garbage cans, destroying public property, etc are not the work of ordinary people," he said.

In one large protest in the capital, a crowd of demonstrators wearing black shouted "Oh the day when we will be armed", according to a video posted by the 1500tasvir Twitter account, which publishes footage it says it receives from the public. The account has 70,000 followers.

Another video from Tehran showed police cars with their windows smashed, as a nearby security forces' vehicle fired water cannon towards protesters.

"People throwing rocks have advanced against the police. Death to the dictator!" a woman can be heard saying.

It also shared footage showing what it said was a protest at a Tehran university against the paramilitary Basij, a militia.

In the northern province of Gilan, police arrested 22 people for destroying public property, the deputy police commander said.

State TV rejected "some claims of deaths on social media" by showing two injured youths who denied reports they had been killed.

In the nationwide condemnations of Amini's death, the Persian hashtag #MahsaAmini reached nearly two million Twitter mentions.

Unprecedented backlash

On Monday, a number of Iranian outlets reported that Colonel Ahmed Mirzaei, head of the Moral Security Police of Greater Tehran, had been suspended from his role. Tehran police later denied this, however.

Mahsa Alimardani, an internet researcher focusing on freedom of expression and access to information online in Iran, told MEE on Saturday that the death of Amini had provoked an unprecedented backlash.

"I’m seeing women who are never even political or neutral about the hijab disturbed by what happened to Mahsa because it could have happened to literally anyone," she said.

"I am seeing calls to remove mandatory hijab and disband the morality police en masse. There has never been a more unanimous call for removing this infrastructure and law for enforcing mandatory hijab."

The protests have been most intense in the Kurdish region, where the authorities have previously put down unrest by the Kurdish minority numbering eight to 10 million.

A video posted on Twitter by Hengaw showed protesters throwing rocks while a man could be heard saying "there is a war in Divandarreh" and accusing the police of attacking protesters.

MEE could not verify the authenticity of the video.

Internet blockage observatory NetBlocks reported "near-total disruption to internet connectivity in Sanandaj" - the provincial capital of the Kurdish region - on Monday, linking it to the protests, according to its Twitter account.

While Hengaw reported deadly force by security forces in the Kurdish region, there were no immediate reports of protest fatalities in other parts of Iran.

Videos on social media showed demonstrations in Tehran and spreading to cities such as Rasht, Mashhad and Isfahan.

A video shared by the 1500tasvir Twitter account, which publishes footage sent by its 70,000 followers, showed police cars with their windows smashed in Tehran, as a nearby security forces' vehicle fired water cannon towards protesters.

It marks some of Iran's worst unrest since street clashes that began in late 2021 over water shortages.

'Egregious affront to human rights'

Several countries have demanded accountability for Amini's death.

"Mahsa Amini’s death after injuries sustained while in police custody for wearing an 'improper' hijab is an appalling and egregious affront to human rights," a White House spokesperson said.

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France condemned her arrest, "and the violence that caused her death", the foreign ministry said, calling for a transparent investigation.

Earlier on Monday, Tehran Police commander Hossein Rahimi said "cowardly accusations" had been made against police, that Amini suffered no physical harm, and the police had "done everything" to keep her alive.

"This incident was unfortunate for us and we wish to never witness such incidents," Rahimi said.

The police have released closed-circuit television footage apparently supporting their version of events. Reuters could not authenticate the video.

Offenders against Iran's sharia, or Islamic law, and hijab rules face fines or arrest. But activists have recently urged women to remove veils despite the hardline rulers' crackdown on "immoral behaviour".

Amini's death could raise tension between the establishment and the Kurdish minority.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have put down unrest in the country’s Kurdish areas for decades, and many Kurdish activists have been sentenced to long jail terms or death.

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