Protests in Iran over the killing of a young Kurdish woman for not wearing her headscarf properly continued to spread on Thursday, despite an increasingly brutal crackdown from the theocratic regime.
The demonstrators are reportedly fighting back with determination rarely seen in Iran since the 1979 Islamist revolution, with reports of police stations and vehicles burned, police officers injured and killed, and even members of the regime’s thuggish Basij militia dying in scuffles with demonstrators.
22-year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested by the “morality police” last week, upon arriving in Tehran from Iran’s Kurdistan region, for allegedly violating hijab laws recently made even stricter by hardline President Ebrahim Raisi. Eyewitnesses said Amini was severely beaten while being taken to detention, where she lapsed into a coma and died last Friday.
Iranian officials claimed Amini died from a pre-existing medical condition and denied reports of her abuse, but those claims were challenged by eyewitness and medical testimony as the protest movement grew.
On Thursday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated international terrorist organization that functions as the theocratic wing of the Iranian military, intervened by demanding prosecution of “those who spread false news and rumors” about Amini’s death – in other words, those who challenge the official narrative of death by natural causes.
“We have requested the judiciary to identify those who spread false news and rumors on social media as well as on the street and who endanger the psychological safety of society and to deal with them decisively,” the IRGC said while claiming sympathy for Amini’s bereaved family.
Mahsa’s father Amjad had little use for the regime’s sympathy, complaining in a BBC interview on Thursday that he still has not been allowed to view his daughter’s body or see her autopsy report. He adamantly insisted she had no serious health problems before she was abducted by the morality police.
“My son was with her. Some witnesses told my son she was beaten in the van and in the police station,” Amjad Amini told the BBC. “My son begged them not to take her, but he was beaten too, his clothes were ripped off.”
“I asked them to show me the body-cameras of the security officers, they told me the cameras were out of battery,” he noted, bluntly accusing the authorities of “lying” about her death.
Amjad dismissed recent claims by Tehran’s director of forensics that Mahsa had brain surgery when she was eight years old as a complete fabrication. Several of Mahsa’s youthful acquaintances told the BBC they could remember no childhood hospitalizations.
Amjad sadly told the BBC that Wednesday would have been Mahsa’s 23rd birthday.
Iranian state media promised the regime is planning “pro-government protests” on Friday, setting the stage for potential street battles.
“The will of the Iranian people is this: do not spare the criminals,” one pro-government newspaper editorialized, referring to the demonstrators.
The far-left New York Times (NYT) on Thursday reported the “spontaneous and leaderless” demonstrations have spread to dozens of Iranian cities, including the capital of Tehran, making them “one of the most daring displays of defiance of the government’s religious and social restrictions in years.”
The NYT claimed that the regime has been throttling Internet service in protest areas and shutting down social media platforms to keep people from organizing, which also makes reliable information about the protests difficult for the outside world to obtain, but several videos of defiant women burning their headscarves and massive demonstrations calling for the end of the regime have been verified as legitimate.
The UK Guardian reported internet service was blocked in portions of Tehran and part of the Kurdistan region on Thursday, and popular social media services such as Instagram and WhatsApp have been shut down.
Some of those videos show protesters fighting back against regime security forces and the Basij militia, a force of violent fanatics the IRGC often deploys against public uprisings. The Guardian described several acts of resistance caught on video:
Demonstrators hurled stones at security forces, set fire to police vehicles and bins and chanted anti-government slogans, the official Irna news agency said.
On Thursday, Iranian media said three militiamen “mobilized to deal with rioters” were stabbed or shot dead in the north-western city of Tabriz, the central city of Qazvin and Mashhad in the north-east of the country.
A fourth member of the security forces died in the southern city of Shiraz, Iranian news agencies reported, adding that a protester was stabbed to death in Qazvin, adding to six protester deaths already announced by officials.
Reuters quoted “semi-official Iranian news agency” reports that a member of the Basij militia was stabbed to death in Mashhad, and another Basij member was shot in Qazvin. Another government-linked media report said an Iranian soldier was killed during the unrest.
A video posted on Twitter showed demonstrators chanting “We will die, we will die, but we’ll get Iran back” as they set fire to a police station in northwestern Iran. A second police station was reportedly set on fire in Tehran.
The protesters have reportedly taken to burning propaganda posters of Qassem Soleimani, the IRGC terrorist mastermind killed by a U.S. airstrike during the Trump administration while orchestrating attacks against Americans in Iraq. Soleimani has been officially martyred and deified by the Iranian regime.
Several human rights activists grimly noted to the Guardian that Internet blackouts in Iran often preclude the mass beatings, arrests, and murders of citizens who challenge the regime. Netherlands-based researcher Azadeh Akbari suggested Tehran might also be testing the waters for cutting Iran off from the global Internet for good, replacing it with a tightly-controlled “national Internet” backwater.
CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour said on Thursday she was scheduled to interview Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Wednesday night – his first-ever interview on American soil, as he is visiting New York this week for the U.N. General Assembly – but Raisi’s aides abruptly canceled the interview because she refused to wear a headscarf.
Also on Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against the Iranian “morality police,” the Basij, and several other intelligence and security agencies for their role in the death of Amini and their violent abuse of protesters.