Iran vows ‘decisive action’ on wave of women-led

Iran’s ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi has announced “decisive action” against the wave of unrest that has shaken the country since the death of the young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of the vice squad.

Raisi described the protests as “riots” and called for “determined action against those opposed to the security and peace of the country and the people,” speaking to relatives of a Basij militiaman killed in the city of Mashhad in a phone call at his office on Saturday said.

At least 41 people have died, mostly protesters but also members of the Islamic Republic’s security forces, according to an official figure, although human rights groups say the real number is far higher.

Hundreds of protesters, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested since the mostly nightly demonstrations and street fights that broke out after Amini’s death on September 16 and then spread to numerous cities.

Security forces have fired live ammunition and bird shots, rights groups have pressed charges, while protesters have hurled stones, torched police cars, torched state buildings and shouted “death to the dictator”.

Iran’s biggest protests in almost three years have been led by women and driven not by classic political or economic grievances, but by anger at the Islamic Republic’s strictly enforced gender-specific dress code.

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Amini, whose Kurdish first name is Jhina, was arrested on September 13 for allegedly breaking rules that mandate tight-fitting hijab head coverings and prohibit ripped jeans and brightly colored clothing, among other things.

Some Iranian women protesters have since shed and burned their hijabs and cut their hair at the rallies, some dancing beside large bonfires to applause from crowds who have chanted “zan, zendegi, azadi” or “woman, life, freedom.”

– “Outrage and Hope” –

Iran’s Academy Award-winning filmmaker Asghar Farhadi was the latest to add his voice of support for Iran’s “progressive and courageous women leading protests alongside men for their human rights.”

“I saw outrage and hope on their faces and in the way they marched through the streets,” he said in a video message on Instagram.

“I deeply respect their fight for freedom and the right to choose their own destiny, despite all the brutality they are subjected to.”

The world has heard much of the unrest and violence through shaky cell phone footage being posted and shared on social media, even as authorities have throttled internet access.

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A widely shared clip shows a young woman baring her hair and struggling with security guards in black riot gear and helmets before being pushed to the ground and banging the back of her head against the curb before getting up and being helped away by other women.

WhatsApp, Instagram and Skype have been banned and internet access restricted, according to web monitor NetBlocks, after older bans followed on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Telegram.

London-based human rights group Amnesty International warns of “risk of further bloodshed amid deliberately imposed internet blackout”.

Solidarity protests with Iranian women have taken place in Athens, Berlin, Brussels, Istanbul, Madrid, New York, Paris, Santiago, Stockholm, The Hague, Toronto and Washington in recent days.

– ‘Foreign properties’ –

Iran – which is ruled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 83, and has been isolated and hit by sanctions largely over its nuclear program – has blamed “foreign conspiracies” for the unrest.

It has also organized large rallies in defense of the headscarf and conservative values, and another pro-government rally was due to take place in central Tehran’s Enghelab (Revolution) Square on Sunday.

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Iran’s main reformist group, the Union of Islamic Iran People’s Party, has called for the mandatory dress code to be lifted and the vice squad to be disbanded.

The party — led by former aides to ex-President Mohammad Khatami, who oversaw a thaw with the West between 1997 and 2005 — also called on the government to “authorize peaceful demonstrations” and release those arrested.

Overseas human rights groups have sought to shed light on the turmoil in Iran by reporting from their own sources in the country.

The Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights put the death toll at 54, not including security personnel.

It also said that in many cases the authorities had required families to hold secret funerals before leaving the bodies to them.

Iranian authorities have yet to determine the cause of Amini’s death, who activists say died as a result of a blow to the head.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi has insisted that Amini was not beaten and that “we must wait for the coroner’s final opinion, which will take time”.

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