Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters angered by the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody have killed at least nine people since the violence erupted over the weekend, according to data from The Associated Press on Thursday.
Widespread outages continued Thursday on Instagram and WhatsApp, which protesters use to share information about the government’s continued crackdown on dissent. Authorities also appeared to disrupt Internet access to the outside world, a tactic rights activists say the government often uses during unrest.
The protests in Iran were sparked by an emotional outburst over the death of Mahsa Amin, a young woman detained by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating a strictly enforced dress code. His death has drawn sharp condemnation from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations. Police say he died of a heart attack and was not mistreated, but his family has questioned that.
The protests have grown into a public challenge to the government over the past four days, with women taking to the streets to remove state-mandated headscarves and Iranians setting trash cans on fire and calling for the collapse of the Islamic Republic itself.
“Death to the dictator!” has been a common cry at protests.
Demonstrations have also rocked university campuses in Tehran and far western cities such as Kermanshah. While widespread, the unrest is distinct from previous rounds of nationwide protests sparked by pocketbook concerns as Iran’s economy is under heavy U.S. sanctions. The riots that broke out in 2019 due to the government’s sharp increase in gasoline prices mobilized the masses of the working class in small towns. Hundreds of people were killed as security forces cracked down on what rights groups say is the deadliest violence since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iranian state media reported demonstrations in at least 13 cities this week, including the capital Tehran, as demonstrators expressed anger at social repression. Online videos show security forces firing tear gas and water cannons to disperse protests. London-based Amnesty International said officers fired birdshot and beat protesters with batons.
At least nine people have been killed in the confrontation, according to AP, based on statements from Iran’s state and semi-official media. Officials have blamed unnamed foreign countries they say are trying to foment the unrest.
In Amin’s home province of Kurdistan, the provincial police chief learned that four protesters had been killed by live fire. In Kermanshah, a prosecutor said two protesters were killed by opposition groups, insisting the shots were not fired by Iranian security forces.
Meanwhile, three men linked to the Basij volunteer force under the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard were also killed in clashes in the cities of Shiraz, Tabriz and Mashhad, semi-official media said, raising the death toll on both sides to nine.
As the protests spread, authorities shut down the internet in some countries, according to London-based internet monitoring group NetBlocks, which described the restrictions as the toughest since mass protests in November 2019.
Iran has grappled with waves of protests in recent years, largely due to a prolonged economic crisis exacerbated by Western sanctions over its nuclear program. Iranians also blame the government for corruption and mismanagement as prices of basic goods rise, the currency depreciates and unemployment remains high.
The Biden administration and European allies have been working to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which limited Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, but talks have been deadlocked for months.