TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s military on Friday hinted it was ready to deepen its crackdown on protests sparked by the death of a young woman in the custody of vice police.
For nearly a week, fighting has been going on between protesters and security forces in nearly 90 towns and villages. At least 26 people have died in the protests, according to Iranian state television.
The army said it would “confront the various plots of the enemies in order to ensure the safety and peace of the people who are being unjustly attacked”, the government-aligned Tasnim news agency reported, according to Reuters.
Protesters can be heard chanting various slogans in videos posted on social media. In a video uploaded to Twitter, a group of protesters in the town of Pakdasht shout “Death to the dictator”. Another video shows protesters chanting “Women, life, freedom” and “I will kill, I will kill whoever killed my sister”.
Anger over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini presents the government with its worst crisis in decades, according to Roham Alvandi, associate professor of international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
“These protests have shaken the very foundations of the Islamic Republic,” he said.
“The message that a younger generation of Iranians are sending to their leaders and to the world is that the Islamic Republic is illegitimate in their eyes and that they demand a secular democratic state that does not interfere in their private lives,” he said. he declared.
The government has responded to the protests by blocking access to the internet and messaging apps WhatsApp and Telegram – a tactic it has used in the past, such as during protests in November 2019. Amnesty International said at least 300 people had been killed during the crackdown. that followed these disturbances.
Some have warned that the crackdown on ongoing protests is likely to intensify.
“I think they will impose a severe crackdown once [President Ebrahim] Raisi is back from New York,” said Ali Ansari, professor of modern Middle Eastern history at the University of St. Andrews, referring to the Iranian leader’s trip this week to the 77th session of the General Assembly. United Nations.
Iranian authorities, however, said Amini died of a heart attack and called the incident “unfortunate”.
Police said Amini died on September 16 after falling ill and falling into a coma a few days earlier while waiting with other women detained by the vice squad, which enforces the strict rules of the Islamic Republic requiring women to cover their hair and wear loose clothing. Public.
Raisi ordered an investigation into Amini’s death and expressed condolences to her father in a phone call, according to Iranian state media.
Still, Raisi has remained steadfast in his public defense of security forces trying to quell the protests. Speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York on Thursday, Raisi said: “There is freedom of expression in Iran…but acts of chaos are unacceptable.”
Raisi also showed other signs of intending to make a statement on womenswear.
While in New York, Raisi was scheduled to be interviewed by CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour. But Amanpour said she backed down after one of Raisi’s aides said it wouldn’t happen unless she was wearing a headscarf.
Amanpour, CNN’s main international anchor, said she plans to ask Raisi about the protests that have swept through Iran.
In a Twitter thread, Amanpour recounted how her scheduled interview with Raisi on Wednesday night fell apart, calling the request an “unprecedented and unexpected condition.”
“I politely declined,” Amanpour wrote. “We are in New York, where there is no law or tradition regarding the headscarf.”
NBC News could not immediately reach Raisi’s office for comment because the president’s office is closed until Saturday.
On Thursday, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Iran’s vice police, accusing it of abusing Iranian women and holding the unit responsible for Amini’s death.
“Iranians are literally risking their lives calling for social and political change,” said Jasmin Ramsey, deputy director of the Iran Center for Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization headquartered in New York.
Ramsey said Amini’s father risked imprisonment by speaking to an Iranian media outlet and challenging the government’s version of events surrounding his daughter’s death.
“They said Mahsa had heart disease and epilepsy, but as a father who raised her for 22 years, I say loud and clear that Mahsa had no disease. She was completely healthy” , Amini’s father told Iranian media.
Ali Arouzi reported from Tehran, Hyder Abbasi reported from London and Rhoda Kwan from Taipei.