Protests have erupted in Iran after a young woman died following her arrest by police. Iranian police reportedly issued a statement Monday calling the woman’s death an “unfortunate incident” and denied accusations that she was mistreated by authorities, which have provoked widespread demonstrations against the Islamic regime.
The 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, fell into a coma and died after she was arrested by morality police last week, which led to protests in Tehran and the Kurdistan province from which she came, Reuters reported.
Amini was reportedly detained for allegedly violating the country’s strict hijab rules, which require women to wear a hair covering and loose clothing over their arms and legs. Witnesses accused police officers of beating her, but Police Brig-Gen Hossein Rahimi denied the allegations, according to the BBC.
Police claimed she suffered “sudden heart failure” while awaiting transport to a facility to be “educated.” They released video showing a woman they identified as Amini talking with a female official, who grabs her clothing. The woman then raised her hands to her head and collapsed, the BBC reported.
“This incident was unfortunate for us and we wish to never witness such incidents,” Rahimi told the Fars news agency.
However, the woman’s father on Sunday reportedly told a pro-reform website Emtedad News that his daughter had no health problems and that she suffered bruises on her legs. He blamed the police for her death.
The incident has led to widespread public outcry in Iran and on social media. The Persian hashtag #MahsaAmini has reached nearly 2 million Twitter mentions since last week, along with anti-government slogans, Reuters reported. Iranian women have posted videos on social media showing them cutting their hair and burning their hijabs to protest the regime.
“From the age of 7 if we don’t cover our hair we won’t be able to go to school or get a job. We are fed up with this gender apartheid regime,” Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad tweeted on Sunday.
Protests reportedly began on Saturday during Amini’s funeral in Saqqez, the capital city of the Kurdistan Province. Social media videos show women chanting against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and removing their hijabs.
The Iranian government has reportedly used violence against the protesters. Alinejad shared in another tweet that Iranian Security Forces allegedly opened fire on peaceful protesters in Saqqez. She posted video that shows a man lying on the ground and bleeding before he’s carried away to what appears to be a medical facility.
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Other videos from Iranian journalists show what is reported to be police in Tehran beating protesters.
And protesters have been filmed throwing rocks at a police water cannon truck, as well as attempting to flip over police vehicles.
Crowds in the Kurdistan province took to the streets over the weekend chanting, “death to the dictator,” according to BBC journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh.
Amini’s death could escalate tensions between the Iranian regime and the country’s Kurdish minority, which numbers eight to 10 million people. According to Reuters, Iranian Revolutionary Guard soldiers have used violence to suppress unrest in Kurdish areas of the country for decades.
“If history is any guide, Iranian government security forces will soon begin mowing down protestors in the street,” Iranian-American journalist Yashar Ali observed on Monday.