In Iran, Woman’s Death After Arrest by the Morality Police Triggers Outrage
The death on Friday of a 22-year-old woman in Iran after she was detained by the morality police has fanned new outrage over the government’s stringent efforts to enforce its hijab law, which mandates covered hair and loosefitting robes for women.
The woman, Mahsa Amini, who also went by the name Jina, was detained on the streets of Tehran on Tuesday while visiting the capital with her family from the city of Saqiz in Kurdistan province, according to news reports. Iran’s mandatory hijab law, which went into effect in 1981 after the Islamic revolution, has long been challenged by many women, and in recent years some have appeared in public without the required scarf and robe.
But that can be risky: Morality police units arbitrarily enforce the rules, and their tactics range from verbal notices, to monetary fines, to violently dragging women into vans for detention.
The police did not offer an explanation for why Ms. Amini was detained, other than that it involved the hijab rule. Her mother said in an interview with Iranian news media that her daughter was observing the rules and wearing a long, loose robe. She said Ms. Amini was arrested as she exited the subway with her brother, and that his pleas that they were visitors to the city were ignored.
“They have to explain for what crime, for what reason did they do this?” her mother said, adding that security forces had swarmed the hospital and ordered the family not to speak out. “I am her mother and I am dying from grief.”
Iran’s security forces issued a statement claiming Ms. Amini had suddenly collapsed from a heart attack at the detention center, while receiving educational training on hijab rules. Her family disputed this claim, saying she was perfectly healthy before her arrest, according to news reports.
Her brother, Kiarash Amini, said he was waiting outside the detention center on the day of her arrest when he heard screaming from inside. An ambulance arrived and a witness coming out of the center told him security forces had killed a young woman inside, according to local news media.
Ms. Amini was taken from the detention facility by ambulance to a hospital shortly after her arrest and went into a coma there but was kept on machines, the outlets reported.
A photo and video of Ms. Amini widely circulating on social media on Thursday showed her lying unconscious on a hospital bed with tubes in her mouth and nose, blood oozing from her ear, and bruises around her eyes.
Several Iranian physicians said on Twitter that although they had no access to her medical file, bleeding from the ear suggested she had a concussion from injuries to the head.
State television broadcast footage without audio or a date, provided by the police from cameras inside the detention center, that showed a woman the police identified as Ms. Amini dressed in a long black robe and a large head scarf. In the video, the woman gets up from her seat, briefly speaking to a woman who works at the detention facility and grabbing her robe. The woman identified as Ms. Amini then holds her head with her hands and collapses. The video then cuts to medics arriving and carrying the woman on a stretcher to an ambulance.
Ms. Amini’s family has not confirmed if the woman in the footage is her.
Ms. Amini’s death has sparked widespread outrage among many ordinary Iranians, as well as some officials, senior clerics, celebrities and athletes. Many have not only condemned the apparent violence against her but also called for an end to the practice of harassing and detaining women for not observing the hijab rules.
Protests erupted in several neighborhoods in Tehran on Friday after her death was declared, with crowds chanting “death to the dictator” and “death to Khamenei,” referring to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to witnesses and videos posted on BBC Persian and social media.
Security forces were deployed in large numbers on the streets and outside the hospital where she died to disperse the crowd, and videos on social media showed the officers beating people with batons and firing guns in the air.
“The repression today, especially against women, is at an all-time high because the state is terrified of young women and their demands for change,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the director for Center for Human Rights in Iran, an independent organization based in New York.
Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, said on Twitter that the United States was “deeply concerned” by the death of Ms. Amini, “who was reportedly beaten in custody by Iran’s morality police.”
Ahmad Vahidi, the interior minister, said in a tweet that he had appointed his deputy for security and intelligence to investigate Ms. Amini’s death and provide a detailed report to him.
This is not the first prominent case in Iran in which a detainee has died under suspicious circumstances. A labor activist, Sattar Beheshti, died in 2012 after lodging an official complaint saying he had been tortured in prison, and an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, Zahra Kazemi, died in 2003 from blows to the head while in custody of the security forces.
Ms. Amini’s uncle told the Iranian news outlet Etemad that doctors told the family she had suffered from a stroke, but that she had been healthy before the arrest three days earlier.
Iran’s former vice president, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, said in a tweet that even the news of Ms. Amini’s stroke was enough to make several generations of Iranians hate religion and its teachings.
Ali Daei, an Iranian soccer legend and former captain of the national team, posted Ms. Amini’s picture on his Instagram page with the message, “What have you done to the country? My daughter asks what happened, what can I tell her?”
Shadi Sadr, a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer based in London, said there was little hope for accountability, and that the root of the problem was laws that allowed security forces to detain women for their choice of attire.
“Mahsa should have never been arrested, let alone treated in such a way that resulted in her death,” Ms. Sadr said in an interview. “The truth is, this is an example of the impunity crisis in Iran.”