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PARIS: Iran restricted internet access on Thursday after days of protests that left at least 11 people dead, following the death of a young woman in police custody.
Public anger has erupted in the Islamic republic since authorities announced on Friday the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for allegedly wearing a hijab scarf “inappropriately”.
Activists said the woman, whose Kurdish first name is Jhina, had been fatally hit in the head, a claim denied by officials, who announced an investigation.
During six consecutive nights of protests, some protesters defiantly removed their headscarves and burned them in bonfires or symbolically cut their hair before cheering the crowds, according to video footage released on social media.
“No to the headscarf, no to the turban, yes to freedom and equality!” protesters in Tehran were heard chanting at a rally that was taken up by solidarity protests abroad.
There has been growing international concern over Iran’s crackdown on protests, including from US President Joe Biden in a speech at the United Nations.
“Today, we stand with the brave citizens and brave women of Iran who are demonstrating right now to secure their basic rights,” Biden told the General Assembly on Wednesday.
“Women, Life, Freedom”
He was speaking shortly after world leaders gathered in New York heard a provocative speech by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
He pointed to the deaths of Indigenous women in Canada as well as Israeli actions and the “savagery” of the Islamic State group against women from minority religious groups.
“Until we have this double standard, where attention is only focused on one side and not all equally, we won’t have real justice and fairness,” Raisi said.
Iranian state media reported that on Wednesday street rallies had spread to 15 cities, with police using tear gas and making arrests to disperse crowds of up to 1,000 people.
In southern Iran, video footage purportedly from Wednesday showed protesters setting fire to a giant photo on the side of a building of General Qassem Soleimani, the revered Revolutionary Guard commander killed in a American strike in 2020 in Iraq.
Three more killed in protests in Iran, officials say
Demonstrators threw stones at security forces, set fire to police vehicles and garbage cans and chanted anti-government slogans, the official IRNA news agency said.
‘Death to the Dictator’ and ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ protesters could be heard shouting in video footage that has spread beyond Iran, despite online restrictions first reported by the Monitor netblocks internet access.
Iran moved to further block access to Instagram and WhatsApp on Thursday.
“In accordance with a decision by the authorities, it is no longer possible to access Instagram in Iran since yesterday (Wednesday) evening and access to WhatsApp is also disrupted,” the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
The two apps were the most used in Iran after other platforms were blocked in recent years, including Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, YouTube and Tiktok.
“Shock” for the regime
On Thursday, Iranian media said three militiamen “mobilized to deal with rioters” were stabbed or shot dead in northwest Tabriz, central Qazvin and northeast Mashhad.
A fourth member of the security forces has died in the southern city of Shiraz, Iranian news agencies reported, adding that a protester was stabbed to death in Qazvin, adding to the six protester deaths already announced by authorities. .
But there were fears the death toll could rise, as Norway-based Kurdish rights group Hengaw also reported the deaths of two protesters, aged 16 and 23, on Wednesday in the province of Western Azerbaijan.
Iranian authorities have denied any involvement in the deaths of protesters.
Amnesty International said it recorded the deaths of eight people – six men, a woman and a child – four of whom were shot dead by security forces at point-blank range with metal pellets.
The London-based rights group hit out at the UN for giving Raisi a platform, saying it showed the international community’s “repeated failure” to ensure accountability.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said AFP “Iranian leaders should notice that the people are unhappy with the direction they have taken.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said he asked Raisi at a meeting on Tuesday to show “respect for women’s rights”.
The protests are among the most serious in Iran since the November 2019 unrest over rising fuel prices.
The wave of unrest sparked by Amini’s death “is a very significant shock, it’s a societal crisis,” said Iranian expert David Rigoulet-Roze of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs.