Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards called on the judiciary on Thursday to prosecute “those who spread false news and rumours”, in an apparent bid to take the steam out of nationwide protests over the death of a young woman in police custody.
Protesters in Tehran and several other Iranian cities torched police stations and vehicles on Thursday as unrest triggered by the death of a woman detained by the Islamic Republic’s morality police intensified for the sixth day with reports of security forces coming under attack.
Mahsa Amini, 22, died last week after being arrested for wearing “unsuitable attire” by the morality police in Tehran. She fell into a coma while in detention. The authorities have said they would launch an investigation into the cause of death.
In a statement, the Guards expressed sympathy with the family and relatives of Amini.
“We have requested the judiciary to identify those who spread false news and rumours on social media as well as on the street and who endanger the psychological safety of society and to deal with them decisively,” the Guards, who have cracked down on protests in the past, said.
Pro-government protests are planned for Friday, Iranian media said.
“The will of the Iranian people is this: do not spare the criminals,” said an editorial in the influential hardline Kayhan newspaper.
The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police, accusing them of abuse and violence against Iranian women and of violating the rights of peaceful Iranian protesters, the US Treasury said.
The Treasury also said it had put sanctions on the heads of the Iranian army’s ground forces and of the morality police as well as on Iran’s minister of intelligence. It said it held the morality police responsible for the death of Amini.
Amini’s death unleashed huge anger in the population and the worst protests in Iran since 2019. Most have been concentrated in Iran’s Kurdish-populated northwestern regions but have spread to the capital and at least 50 cities and towns nationwide, with police using force to disperse protesters.
A new mobile internet disruption was registered in the country, internet monitoring group Netblocks wrote on Twitter, in a possible sign that the authorities fear the protests will intensify.
A group of United Nations experts, including Javaid Rehman, special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, and Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, demanded accountability for Amini’s death.
“[Amini] is another victim of Iran’s sustained repression and systematic discrimination against women and the imposition of discriminatory dress codes that deprive women of bodily autonomy and the freedoms of opinion, expression and belief,” the experts said in a statement.
A member of an Iranian pro-government paramilitary organisation, the Basij, was stabbed to death in the northeastern city of Mashhad on Wednesday, two semi-official Iranian news agencies reported on Thursday.
The Tasnim and Fars news agencies’ reports of the stabbing appeared on Telegram as both their websites were not functioning on Thursday. There was no official confirmation of the death.
Tasnim also said another member of the Basij was killed on Wednesday in the city of Qazvin from a gunshot wound inflicted by “rioters and gangs”.
Nour news, a media outlet affiliated with a top security body, shared a video of an army officer confirming the death of a soldier in the unrest, bringing the total reported number of security force members killed in the unrest to five.
An official from Mazandaran said that 76 members of the security forces were injured in the province during the unrest while the police commander of Kurdistan announced more than 100 security forces were wounded.
In the northeast, protesters shouted “We will die, we will die but we’ll get Iran back” near a police station which was set on fire, a video showed that was posted on a Twitter account 1500tasvir, which focuses on Iran protests and has around 100,000 followers.
Reuters could not verify the footage.
Another police station was set ablaze in the capital Tehran as the unrest spread from Kurdistan, the home province of Amini.
Iran’s rulers fear a revival of the 2019 protests over gasoline price rises, the bloodiest in the Islamic Republic’s history. Reuters reported that 1,500 were killed.
Protesters also expressed anger at Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Mojtaba, may you die and not become Supreme Leader,” a crowd was seen chanting in Tehran, referring to Khamenei’s son, who some believe could succeed his father at the top of Iran’s political establishment.
Reuters could not verify the video.
Reports from Kurdish rights group Hengaw, which Reuters could not verify, said three protesters were killed by security forces on Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 10.
Officials have denied that security forces have killed protesters, suggesting they may have been shot by armed dissidents.
With no sign of the protests easing, authorities restricted access to the internet, according to accounts from Hengaw, residents, and internet shutdown observatory NetBlocks.
Amini’s death has unleashed fury across Iran over issues including freedoms in the Islamic Republic and an economy reeling from sanctions.
Women have played a prominent role in the protests, waving and burning their veils, with some cutting their hair in public.
In northern Iran, crowds armed with batons and rocks attacked two members of the security forces on a motorbike as a crowd cheered, as seen on a video, which Reuters was unable to verify.