Social videos show how protests in Iran are spreading after the death of Mahsa Amin

Anger is spreading across the country following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amin in the custody of the “morality police”.

The protests started small outside a hospital in Tehran, where a 22-year-old Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini died last week after being detained by “morality police” for an unspoken violation of the country’s strict dress code for women. By Tuesday, protests across the country had erupted in an outpouring of grief, anger and defiance. Many were led by women who burned their headscarves, cut their hair and chanted, “Death to the dictator.”

The ferocity of the protests is fueled by outrage over many things at once: claims that Amin was beaten in custody before he collapsed and fell into a coma; The priorities of the Iranian government, led by ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi, who has strictly enforced dress codes and empowered the hated morality police amid widespread economic suffering; and the anguish of the Amin family, ethnic Kurds from rural Iran, whose expressions of pain and shock have echoed across the country.

Amin had no medical problems to explain his death, said his family, who were at a loss to understand how he had attracted the attention of police. “Even a 60-year-old woman was not as hidden as Mahsa,” her father, Amjad Amini, said in an interview with an Iranian news outlet.

Rights groups said at least seven people have been killed in the protests, the deadliest in Iran since 2019 protests over fuel subsidy cuts. At those protests, like the ones currently rocking the country, authorities responded by shutting down Internet service and in some cases using deadly force, including live ammunition.

The United States imposed sanctions on senior Iranian intelligence and law enforcement officials on Thursday, condemning what Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken called Amin’s tragic and brutal death.

Social media videos shared on September 21 show protesters chasing security vehicles in the northern cities of Amol and Nowshahr. (Video: Twitter)

Protesters are becoming emboldened and directing their rage against the state’s security forces. In the northern town of Amol, the video shows protesters chasing a retreating police car. To the west, in Nowshahr, protesters reverse a police car as onlookers cheer them on. The “morality police” or “guidance patrols” that roam the streets in vans with distinctive green stripes have been around for years, but have become more aggressive under Rais. Even before Amin’s death, videos documenting their brutality had sparked widespread outrage, including a video from August that appeared to show a detained woman being thrown from a speeding van.

Two videos from the Kurdish towns of Abdanan and Kamyaran show moments from the protests that broke out in Iran on September 17. (Video: Top: Rudaw TV via AP; Bottom: Twitter)

The video shows protesters, some of whom speak Kurdish, taking to the streets in Kamyaran and Abdanan, near Iran’s border with Iraq. Many of the protests are concentrated in the west, a poor, predominantly Kurdish region where Amin’s family hails from. The Kurds – who speak their native language, have a distinct cultural identity and are mostly Sunnis living in a Shiite-majority country – have complained for decades of neglect by the central government.

Protests, some violent, spread to Iran’s religious cities of Qom and Mashhad in videos posted online on September 20. (Video: Twitter)

Large protests also erupted in two Iranian cities considered holy by Shiite Muslims that attract tens of millions of pilgrims each year. “Cannons, tanks and rockets, the clerics must be wrong,” chanted protesters in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, home to the shrine of the revered Imam Reza. They gathered on the main road, Ahmadabad Street, where the fire could be seen from afar. In a video from Qom, a center of religious scholarship, protesters march down the street, whistling and some throwing stones. “Hit him,” someone shouts as the crowd rushes forward.

Protests took place across Tehran, including Vali-e Asri Square on September 19 and Amirkabir University of Technology on September 18. (Video: Twitter)

Protests quickly spread to the capital, with one video showing protesters gathering at Vali-e Asr, a large square in central Tehran. “Honor, honor,” people shout as they are sprayed with water cannons mounted on an armored police vehicle. Another video from central Tehran shows students at Amirkabir University of Technology chanting “Death to the dictator” – a reference to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In recent months, there has been growing anger at universities over the government’s increasingly strict enforcement of hijab rules. Students who protest may face detention or blacklisting, jeopardizing their academic progress.

Videos posted online on September 20 show women protesting in the Iranian cities of Kerman in the south and Sari in the north. (Video: Twitter)

The protests have spread beyond the capital and into traditionally restive areas of Iran. The video, taken from Kerman in southeastern Iran, shows a young woman sitting on a utility box surrounded by a cheering crowd as she removes her headscarf and cuts off her hair. “The Iranian will die, but will not accept oppression,” the crowd chants. In Sari near the Caspian Sea, a woman dances around a small fire and then throws her headscarf into the flames.

A video posted online on September 20 shows protests turning violent in the Iranian city of Rasht, north of Tehran. (Video: Twitter)

Another video from Rasht, also on the Caspian Sea, shows a crowd of young men huddled around a police officer brandishing what appears to be a drug weapon. Within seconds, the crowd attacks, pinning the officer to the ground and beating him. When shots are fired, the protesters flee.

Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.