DUBAI: Nationwide protests in Iran over the death of young woman Mahsa Amini in police custody continued to pile pressure on authorities on Wednesday amid reports of internet disruption in the country that is feared to herald more bloodshed.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who last week said the protests over Amini’s death were unacceptable “acts of chaos”, was set to speak to the nation on Wednesday, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.

Amini, 22, from the north-western Kurdish city of Saqez, was arrested on Sept 13 in Tehran for “unsuitable attire” by the morality police who enforce the country’s strict dress code. She died three days later in hospital after falling into a coma, sparking the first big show of opposition on Iran’s streets since authorities crushed protests against a rise in gasoline prices in 2019.

Despite a growing death toll and a crackdown by security forces using tear gas, clubs and, in some cases, live ammunition, videos posted on social media showed Iranians calling for the end of the Islamic establishment’s more than four decades in power.

Protests have continued for almost two weeks, spreading to at least 80 cities and towns around Iran, from Tehran to the south-eastern port of Chabahar.

“We will fight, we will die, we will take Iran back,” chanted protesters in Tehran’s Ekbatan neighbourhood, a video posted on Twitter showed.

A video from Chabahar showed riot police firing tear gas to disperse protesters, chanting “Death to (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei”.

State media said 41 people, including members of the police and a pro-government militia, had died during the protests. Iranian human rights groups have reported a higher toll. Videos posted on activist Twitter account 1500tasvir, with 145,000 followers, showed protesters gathering at Shiraz Medical School to protest against Amini’s death.

Early Wednesday, a video showed protesters in Tehran chanting “Mullahs get lost!” “Death to the dictator!” and “Death to the leader because of all these years of crime!”. The authenticity of the social media videos could not be verified.

Internet disruption

Meanwhile, there has been “a notable drop in the number of videos coming out of Iran”, according to BBC journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh. “Enga­gements in Persian with the main hashtags of the protests have fallen off a cliff. It looks like the state has opted for the nuclear option of a near total internet blackout,” he tweeted late on Tuesday

Internet monitoring group Netblocks also confirmed early on Wednesday that real-time network data “show an ongoing anomaly on internet backbone provider TCI [Telecommunication Company of Iran]”.

The incident “is likely to limit the free flow of information amid protests over the death of Mahsa Amini”, it said in Twitter post.

Activists in Iran have been expressing concern about widespread internet outages and residents being unable to access social media in the wake of Amini’s death.

UN calls for restraint

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi not to use “disproportionate force” against protesters, his spokesman said Tuesday.

In a bilateral meeting last week during the UN General Assembly, Guterres “stressed to President Raisi the need to respect human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“We are increasingly concerned about reports of rising fatalities, including women and children, related to the protests,” Dujarric said in a statement.

Mahsa’s family files complaint

Meanwhile, Mahsa Amini’s parents have filed a complaint against the police who arrested their daughter for allegedly breaching the dress code, their lawyer said Wednesday.

The complaint was filed “against the perpetrators of their daughter’s arrest” and the police who spoke with her following her detention, lawyer Saleh Nikbakht said, quoted by ISNA news agency.

The family has requested “a thorough investigation” into the arrest and the events that led to Amini’s hospitalisation, the lawyer said, urging authorities to release “all videos and photographs” showing her in custody.

The lawyer said the head of the prosecutor’s office “promised the case would be handled carefully and

that all our requests would be taken into account”, and that “a medical team appointed by Mahsa Amini’s family would be informed” of any developments in the investigation.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2022

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