Iran’s president said on Thursday that “acts of chaos” were not acceptable, warning protesters who have taken to the streets across the country to express their anger over the death of a woman in moral police custody.
Ebrahim Raisi added at a news conference on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly that he had ordered an investigation into the case of 22-year-old Mahsa Amin, who died last week after being arrested for wearing “inappropriate clothing”.
“There is freedom of speech in Iran… but acts of chaos are unacceptable,” said Raisi, who is facing the biggest protests in the Islamic Republic since 2019.
At least nine people have been killed in clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters, according to data from The Associated Press. An anchor on Iranian state television said on Thursday that the death toll from the mass protests could reach 17, but did not say how he arrived at that figure.
Women have played a prominent role in the protests, waving and burning their veils, with some publicly cutting their hair in direct challenge to the clergy.
Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards called on judges to prosecute “those who spread false news and rumours” in an apparent attempt to quell the nationwide protests. The guard also expressed his condolences to Amin’s family.
Iran’s intelligence ministry also tried to quell the protests, saying it was illegal to participate in the demonstrations and that anyone who took part would be prosecuted, Iranian news websites reported.
Meanwhile, protesters in Tehran and other Iranian cities torched police stations and vehicles as public outrage showed no signs of abating and reports of security forces coming under attack.
Kurdish rights group Hengaw posted a video showing gunfire during the protest and accused security forces of “using heavy and semi-heavy weapons against civilians” in the northwestern town of Oshnavieh.
A video posted on the Twitter account 1500tasvir showed protests in the northwestern city of Bukan, with gunshots in the background. Demonstrators chanted: “We die, we die, but we will get Iran back,” near a police station that was set on fire. The account focuses on protests in Iran and has around 100,000 followers. The videos could not be independently verified.
Social media posts say the protests have spread to most of Iran’s 31 provinces.
Most of the unrest is concentrated in Iran’s Kurdish-populated northwest. Amini was from Kurdistan province.
Raisi said the extensive coverage of Amin’s case was the result of “double standards”.
“Every day in various countries, including the US, we see men and women dying in police encounters, but there is a lack of sensitivity to the cause of the violence and how to address it,” he said.
Pro-government demonstrations are planned for Friday, and some of those marchers have already taken to the streets, Iranian media reported.
The United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police on Thursday, accusing them of abuse and violence against Iranian women and violating the rights of peaceful Iranian protesters, the U.S. Treasury Department said.
A new mobile internet outage was registered in the country, the internet monitoring group Netblocks wrote on Twitter, which may be a sign that the authorities are afraid of the intensification of protests.
Nour News, a media outlet linked to the top security body, shared a video of an army officer confirming the death of a soldier in the riots, bringing the reported death toll to five.
Amin’s death has reignited anger over issues such as restrictions on personal freedoms in Iran – including strict dress codes for women – and an economy struggling under economic sanctions.
Iran’s clerical rulers fear a resurgence of protests in 2019 that erupted over rising gasoline prices, the deadliest in the Islamic Republic’s history. According to Reuters, 1,500 people died.
This week, protesters also expressed anger at Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “Mojtaba you die and don’t become supreme leader,” a crowd in Tehran was seen chanting, referring to Khamenei’s son, who some believe could succeed his father at the top of Iran’s political power.
In reports by Kurdish rights group Hengaw, also not verified by Reuters, the death toll in Kurdish areas rose to 15 and the number of injured to 733. Iranian officials have denied that security forces have killed the protesters, suggesting they may have been demonstrators. was shot by armed dissidents.