Iran’s president returns to mass protests in the streets – and deadlier crackdown could be next

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TEHRAN, Iran — The Iranian military hinted Friday that it was ready to crack down on protests sparked by the death of a young woman detained by vice squad.

Fighting has been going on between protesters and security forces in nearly 90 towns and villages for nearly a week. At least 26 people have been killed in the demonstrations, according to Iranian state television.

The military said it would “confront the various plots of the enemies to ensure security and peace for the people unjustly attacked,” the government-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported, according to Reuters.

Videos on social media can be heard chanting various slogans. In a video uploaded to Twitter, a group of protesters in the city of Pakdasht shout, “Death to the dictator.” Another video shows protesters chanting “Women, life, freedom” and, “I will kill, I will, whoever killed my sister.”

An Iranian newspaper with a photo of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died after morality police arrested her for allegedly violating the government’s strict dress code.Fatemeh Bahrami / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Anger over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, poses the government’s worst crisis in decades, according to Roham Alvandi, an associate professor of international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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“These protests have shaken the foundations of the Islamic Republic,” he said.

“The message that a younger generation of Iranians is sending to their rulers and the world is that the Islamic Republic is illegitimate in their view and they demand a secular democratic state that does not interfere with their private lives,” he said.

The government has responded to demonstrations by blocking access to the internet and messaging apps WhatsApp and Telegram — a tactic it has used in the past, such as during protests in November 2019. Amnesty International said at least 300 were killed during the crackdown. people have died. that followed the turmoil.

Some have warned that the crackdown on the ongoing demonstrations is likely to intensify.

“I think someday they will impose a hard performance” [President Ebrahim] Raisi is back from New York,” said Ali Ansari, professor of modern Middle East history at the University of St Andrews, referring to the Iranian leader’s trip to the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly this week. .

However, Iranian authorities said Amini died of a heart attack and called the incident “unfortunate”.

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Police said Amini died on Sept. 16 after falling ill and falling into a coma days earlier while waiting with other women detained by the vice squad, which enforces the Islamic Republic’s strict rules requiring women to cover their hair. and wearing loose-fitting clothes in public.

Raisi has ordered an investigation into Amini’s death and has expressed her condolences to her father in a phone call, according to Iranian state media.

Still, Raisi has remained steadfast in his public defense of security forces trying to crush the protests. During a press conference on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York on Thursday, Raisi said: “There is freedom of speech in Iran … but acts of chaos are unacceptable.”

Raisi has also shown other signs of his intention to make a statement with women’s clothing.

In New York, Raisi was said to be interviewed by TUSEN journalist Christiane Amanpour. But Amanpour said she withdrew after one of Raisi’s aides said it wouldn’t happen unless she wore a headscarf.

Image: Ebrahim Raisi
President Ebrahim Raisi at the UN General Assembly in New York.Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

Amanpour, TUSEN’s chief international anchor, said she planned to ask Raisi about the protests that have swept Iran.

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In a Twitter thread, Amanpour wrote of how her scheduled interview with Raisi on Wednesday night fell apart, characterizing the request as an “unprecedented and unexpected condition.”

“I politely declined,” Amanpour wrote. “We are in New York, where there is no law or tradition regarding headscarves.”

NBC News could not immediately reach Raisi’s office for comment because the president’s office is closed until Saturday.

NBC News could not immediately reach Raisi’s office for comment because the president’s office is closed until Saturday.

On Thursday, the finance ministry imposed sanctions on Iran’s vice squad, accusing it of abusing Iranian women and holding the unit responsible for Amini’s death.

“Iranians are literally risking their lives calling for social and political change,” said Jasmin Ramsey, deputy director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, a non-governmental organization headquartered in New York.

Ramsey said Amini’s father risked jail time by talking to an Iranian media outlet and contesting the government’s version of events surrounding his daughter’s death.

“They said that Mahsa had a heart condition and epilepsy, but as a father who raised her for 22 years, I say out loud that Mahsa had no illness at all. She was perfectly healthy,” Amini’s father told an Iranian news channel.

Ali Arouzi reported from Tehran, Hyder Abbasi reported from London and Rhoda Kwan reported from Taipei.

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