PARIS: Thousands demonstrated across Iran on Friday at government-backed pro-hijab counter rallies, after a week of bloody protests over the death of a woman arrested for “improperly” wearing the headscarf.

Iran has been rocked by street violence since the death last week of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurd who had spent three days in a coma after being detained by the “morality police”.

The official death toll from the clashes remains at 17, including five security personnel, but the New York-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) put the figure at 36 and said it expected it to rise.

As part of the crackdown, Iran has imposed tough restrictions on use of the internet in a bid to hamper protesters gathering and stop the flow of images of the backlash from reaching the outside world. On Friday, thousands took to the streets in support of the hijab and a conservative dress code at government-backed counter rallies in Tehran and other cities including Ahvaz, Isfahan, Qom and Tabriz.

“The great demonstration of the Iranian people condemning the conspirators and the sacrileges against religion took place today,” Iran’s Mehr news agency said.

State television broadcast footage of pro-hijab demonstrators in central Tehran, many of them men but also women dressed in black chadors.

Overnight clashes

Amini died on Sept 16, three days after she was hospitalised following her arrest by the morality police, a unit responsible for enforcing Iran’s strict dress code for women.

Activists said she suffered a blow to the head in custody, but this has not been confirmed by Iranian authorities, who have opened an investigation.

After she was pronounced dead, angry protests flared and spread to major urban centres, including the capital, Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz and Tabriz.

In the latest violence, police fired “semi-heavy weapons” at demonstrators during overnight clashes in the northern city of Oshnaviyeh, the Oslo-based Kurdish rights group Hengaw said on Friday. In nearby Babol, demonstrators were seen setting ablaze a large billboard bearing the image of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in videos shared online.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2022

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