The death in custody of an Iranian woman that sparked widespread protests must be investigated “steadfastly”, the Iranian president has said, though he lamented what he believed were Western “double standards” on human rights.
Ebrahim Raisi told a press conference on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly that Mahsa Amini’s death while in custody by vice squad “definitely needs to be investigated”.
“I contacted her family at the very first opportunity and assured them that we would steadfastly continue to investigate that incident… Our greatest concern is to protect the rights of every citizen.”
About Amini’s death, he said that the authorities did what they had to do and that the responsibility is now in the hands of the judiciary. He claimed that the first coroner’s investigation into Amini’s death showed that she died of heart failure or a stroke, not a physical beating by the vice squad.
But he said: “If her death was due to negligence, it will certainly be investigated and I promise to follow up on the matter whether the international forums take a position or not.”
Protesters reject the state’s conclusions, pointing to reports that officers hit Amini’s head with a baton and slammed her head into one of their vehicles.
Human rights groups fear that at least 36 people have died in six days of protests sparked by the death on September 16 of the 22-year-old Kurdish woman.
On Thursday, protesters set fire to police stations and vehicles in several cities, and Iran has shut down the internet in parts of Tehran and Kurdistan and blocked access to platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp in an attempt to curb a growing protest movement. Iranian women have taken to the streets and the internet to burn their headscarves and cut their hair.
Amini was detained for allegedly wearing a hijab headscarf in an “inappropriate” manner. Activists said the woman, whose Kurdish first name is Jhina, received a fatal blow to the head, a claim denied by officials, who have announced an investigation. Police continue to maintain that she died of natural causes, but her family suspect she was beaten and tortured.
Raisi, a former hardline head of the judiciary accused of sending hundreds to their deaths in the past, said Iran would not tolerate “acts of chaos”, citing the six nights of protests over her murder, but said that his country accepted lawful protest.
The judiciary has ordered courts to crack down on protesters, claiming the protests are now led by foreign agents and fueled by anti-Iranian social media, a well-known charge by the regime when dissent erupts.
He tried to turn the tables in the country he was visiting by asking about police shootings in the US. “Have all these deaths been investigated?” he asked.
“Every day in different countries, including the United States, we see men and women dying in police encounters, but there is no sensitivity about the cause and handling of this violence,” he added.
The extent of the ongoing unrest in Iran, the worst in years, still remains unclear as protesters in more than 12 cities – expressing anger at social repression and the mounting crises in the country – continue to face security threats. and paramilitary forces. The Iranian military said Friday it would “confront the enemies” to ensure security, the strongest warning yet to protesters.
Raisi, who formally addressed the general assembly on Wednesday, said bad things happened to people at the hands of authorities everywhere, and made vague references to the US and the UK. He called for “the same standard” around the world in dealing with such deaths by authorities.
Raisi’s comparison reflects a common approach among Iranian leaders, who, when faced with accusations of human rights abuses, often point to Western society and its “hegemony” and demand that those nations be held equally accountable.
The protests have become an open challenge to the government, with some Iranians calling for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself. They are the most serious demonstrations since 2019, when protests erupted over a government hike in petrol prices.
While Raisi does not outright condemn the protests, Raisi said: “What is happening, demonstrations… of course these are normal and fully accepted… We have to distinguish between protesters and vandalism. Demonstrations are good for raising specific issues.”
The US on Thursday imposed sanctions on the morality police and leaders of other Iranian security forces, saying they use “routine force to repress peaceful protesters.” US officials promised to take further action in the coming days.
Erfan Mortezaei, Amini’s cousin, told the IranWire website that the deceased woman’s family was still under pressure to publicly support the regime’s version of events: namely that she died not from head injuries sustained in custody, but from complications. of a historic brain surgery.
Mahsa’s cousin Arkan (17) was arrested over the weekend. He was released on bail of 500 million toman (16,000 dollars) yesterday morning. The judiciary told the family it was because he went to the offices of a news agency in the city, presumably with the intention of talking to them about his aunt.
“The purpose of this pressure,” Erfan said, “is to obtain a forced statement from Mahsa’s family with a view to stopping the nationwide protests.”
Nasser Kanani, the spokesman for the Islamic Republic’s foreign ministry, wrote in a tweet without referring to the nationwide protests in Iran: “The real human rights violators do not have the necessary moral competence to comment on human rights.”
In an index of the scale of the riots, Tehran mayor Alireza Zakani claimed damage was caused to 43 buses, 54 bus stations and 23 fire engines.
The protests lack an organized leadership and while the initial focus was on women’s right not to wear the hijab in public or be harassed by the vice squad, there is a wider call for freedom or overthrow of the regime.
Iranian officials have tried to wedge popular support for the protests by highlighting anti-Iranian violence.
US-based human rights groups had attempted to subpoena Raisi on behalf of former political prisoners, including Kylie Moore-Gilbert, the British-Australian dual citizen who has been in prison for two years.