Anger as Iran woman dies after morality police arrest

Anger as Iran woman dies after morality police arrest
People in Iran have reacted with outrage after a young woman died after being detained by the country's 'morality' police, with rights groups saying those responsible must face justice.
4 min read
16 September, 2022
Mahsa Amini died after being detained for breaking Iran's strict hijab laws [Getty]

A young Iranian woman who fell into a coma after being arrested in Tehran by the notorious morality police died on Friday, state media and her family said, with activists urging those responsible for her "suspicious" death be brought to justice.

Mahsa Amini, 22, was on a visit with her family to the Iranian capital when she was detained on Tuesday by the police unit responsible for enforcing Iran's strict dress code for women, which include the compulsory wearing of the headscarf in public.

"Unfortunately, she died and her body was transferred to the medical examiner's office," Iranian state television reported.

Persian-language media, including the Iran Wire website and the Shargh newspaper have quoted her family as saying that the previously healthy Amini had been rushed to hospital in a coma a few hours after her arrest and had now died.

It is not yet clear what happened between her arriving at the police station and her departure for hospital. The 1500tavsir channel which monitors violations in Iran said she had suffered a blow to the head.

Images posted on social media showed crowds gathering outside the hospital where she was being treated and police seeking to disperse the dozens who had gathered. People were also shown angrily shouting anti-regime slogans later in the evening in Tehran.

'Must face justice'

"The circumstances leading to the suspicious death in custody of 22-year-old young woman Mahsa Amini, which include allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in custody, must be criminally investigated," Amnesty International said.

"The so-called 'morality police' in Tehran arbitrarily arrested her three days before her death while enforcing the country's abusive, degrading and discriminatory forced veiling laws. All agents and officials responsible must face justice," it added.

Robert Malley, the US envoy for Iran who is involved in efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, said those responsible for her death "must be held accountable".

"Mahsa Amini's death after injuries sustained in custody for an 'improper' hijab is appalling," he wrote on Twitter. "Iran must end its violence against women for exercising their fundamental rights.

Also on Twitter, prominent Iranian lawyer Saeed Dehghan described Amini's death as a "murder", saying she had suffered a blow to the head which had caused the base of her skull to fracture.

State television broadcast images on Friday purportedly showing her falling to the ground inside a large hall full of women while arguing with one of the female instructors about her dress.

In a statement on Friday, Tehran police insisted "there was no physical encounter" between officers and Amini.

It said Amini was among a number of women who had been taken to a police station for "instruction" on the dress code on Tuesday.

"She suddenly fainted while with other visitors in the hall," the statement said.

Earlier, President Ebrahim Raisi ordered the interior minister to open an inquiry into Amini's case.

'Government responsible'

The head of the New York-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi, described her death as a "preventable tragedy".

"The government in Iran is responsible. She was arrested under the guise of the state's discriminatory forced-hijab law and died in state custody," he said.

Amini's death comes amid growing controversy both inside and outside Iran over the conduct of the morality police, known formally as the Gasht-e Ershad (Guidance Patrol).

In July, a video of a woman standing in front of one of the force's vans pleading for her daughter's release went viral on social media.

The veiled woman kept holding on to the van as it pulled off, only being thrown clear after it gathered speed.

Also in July, a young Iranian woman, Sepideh Rashno, disappeared after becoming involved in a dispute on a Tehran bus with another woman who accused her of removing her headscarf.

She was held by the Revolutionary Guards and appeared on television in what activists said was a forced confession before being released on bail in late August.

Activists accuse Iran of being in the throes of a major crackdown that is affecting all areas of society, including a new push against the Bahai religious minority, death sentences for gays, a surge in executions and arrests of foreign nationals.

Raisi plans to travel to New York for the UN General Assembly next month where he is set to face intense scrutiny over Iran's human rights record.

"Raisi will be given a platform in New York to freely address the world while his government criminalises free speech and stamps on human rights at home," said Ghaemi.