Anger is spreading across the country after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the ‘morality police’
The ferocity of the protests is fueled by outrage over many things at once: the allegations that Amini was beaten in custody before she collapsed and fell into a coma; the priorities of Iran’s government, led by ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi, who has strictly enforced dress codes and empowered the hated morality police at a time of widespread economic suffering; and the anguish of Amini’s family, ethnic Kurds from a rural area of Iran, whose expressions of pain and shock have resonated across the country.
Amini did not have any health problems that would explain her death, said her family, who could not fathom how she attracted the interest of the police. “Even a 60-year-old woman wasn’t covered up as much as Mahsa,” said her father, Amjad Amini, in an interview with an Iranian news outlet.
Rights groups say at least seven people have been killed in the demonstrations, the largest in Iran since protests erupted in 2019 over the cutting of fuel subsidies. In those protests, like the ones now shaking the country, the authorities responded by cutting internet service and resorting in some cases to the use of deadly force, including live ammunition.
Videos show protesters, some speaking Kurdish, taking to the streets in Kamyaran and Abdanan, near Iran’s border with Iraq. Many of the protests have been concentrated in the west, the poor, predominantly Kurdish region Amini’s family hails from. The Kurds — who speak their own language, have a distinct cultural identity and are mostly Sunni Muslims in a majority-Shiite country — have complained for decades of neglect by the central government.
Large demonstrations also erupted in two Iranian cities that are considered holy by Shiite Muslims and draw tens of millions of pilgrims every year. “Cannons, tanks and rockets, the clerics have to get lost” protesters chanted in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city and the site of the revered Imam Reza shrine. They gathered on Ahmadabad Street, a major thoroughfare, where a fire could be seen in the distance. In a video from Qom, a center of religious scholarship, protesters march through the street, whistling, and some throw rocks. “Hit him,” someone shouts, as the crowd surges forward.