© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People light a fire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic’s “morality police”, in Tehran, Iran September 21, 2022. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran must deal decisively with protests which have swept the country after the death in custody of a woman detained by the Islamic Republic’s morality police, President Ebrahim Raisi said on Saturday.
At least 35 people have been killed in the weeklong demonstrations, according to Iran’s state television, with protest spreading to most of the country’s 31 provinces.
On Friday, state-organised rallies took place in several Iranian cities to counter the anti-government protests, and the army promised to confront “the enemies” behind the unrest.
State media quoted Raisi on Saturday as saying Iran must “deal decisively with those who oppose the country’s security and tranquillity”.
Raisi was speaking by telephone to the family of a member of the Basij volunteer force killed while taking part in the crackdown on unrest in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
The president “stressed the necessity to distinguish between protest and disturbing public order and security, and called the events … a riot,” state media reported.
The protests broke out in northwestern Iran a week ago at the funeral of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died after falling into a coma following her detention by morality police enforcing hijab rules on women’s dress.
Her death has reignited anger over issues including restrictions on personal freedoms in Iran, the strict dress codes for women and an economy reeling from sanctions.
Women have played a prominent role in the protests, waving and burning their veils. Some have publicly cut their hair as furious crowds called for the fall of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The protests are the largest to sweep the country since demonstrations over fuel prices in 2019, when Reuters reported 1,500 people were killed in a crackdown on protesters – the bloodiest confrontation in the Islamic Republic’s history.
In neighbouring Iraq, dozens of Iraqi and Iranian Kurds rallied outside the United Nations compound in the northern city of Erbil on Saturday, carrying placards with Amini’s photograph and chanted “Death to the Dictator”, referring to Khamenei.
State television in Iran, which has blamed armed Iranian Kurdish dissidents of involvement in the unrest, said Iranian Revolutionary Guards fired artillery on anti-Iranian military bases in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
At least three times this week, mobile internet has been disrupted in Iran, the NetBlocks watchdog has reported. Activists say the move is intended to prevent video footage of the violence reaching the world.
Rights group Amnesty International said protesters have faced a “spiralling deadly response from security forces over the past days” and called for an independent United Nations “investigative mechanism” to look into this week’s events.
On the night of Sept. 21, shootings by security forces left at least 19 people dead, including three children, it said.
“The rising death toll is an alarming indication of just how ruthless the authorities’ assault on human life has been under the darkness of the internet shutdown,” Amnesty said.
The activist Twitter (NYSE:) account 1500tasvir, which has more than 120,000 followers, said late on Friday that communication channels with the northwestern town of Oshnavieh had been cut off, and landlines were down.
Oshnavieh was one of several towns in northwest Iran, where most of the country’s 10 million Kurds live, that held a strike on Friday. Kurdish rights group Hengaw posted a video it said showed protesters in control of parts of the town on Friday.
Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the video.
State television showed footage purporting to show calm had returned to many parts of the capital Tehran late on Friday.
“But in some western and northern areas of Tehran and certain provinces rioters destroyed public property,” it said, carrying footage of protesters setting fire to garbage bins and a car, marching, and throwing rocks.
Twitter account 1500tasvir carried videos of protests near Tehran university on Saturday. Riot police were seen clashing with protesters and arresting some.