UN calls for probe into death of Iranian woman held by morality police

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A senior United Nations official has demanded an independent investigation into the death of an Iranian woman held by the country’s morality police as authorities acknowledged making arrests at protests over the incident.

Mahsa Amini’s death has ignited demonstrations across the country, including the capital Tehran, where crowds chanted against the government and clashed with police.

The UN Human Rights Office said Iran’s morality police have expanded patrols in recent months, targeting women for not properly wearing the Islamic headscarf known as the hijab.

It said verified videos show women being slapped in the face, struck with batons and thrown into police vans for wearing the hijab too loosely.

A similar patrol detained 22-year-old Ms Amini last Tuesday, taking her to a police station where she collapsed. She died three days later.

Iranian police have denied mistreating her and say she died of a heart attack. Authorities say they are investigating.

“Mahsa Amini’s tragic death and allegations of torture and ill-treatment must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by an independent competent authority,” said Nada Al-Nashif, the acting UN high commissioner for human rights.

Iran’s government has previously criticised the work of UN investigators examining rights issues in the country.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken meanwhile said Ms Amini “should be alive today”, adding: “Instead, the United States and the Iranian people mourn her. We call on the Iranian government to end its systemic persecution of women and to allow peaceful protest.”

Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian rejected the criticism, accusing the US of “shedding crocodile tears”.

“An investigation was ordered into tragic death of Mahsa, who, as President said, was just like our own daughters,” he tweeted.

“To Iran, human rights are of inherent value — unlike those who see it a tool against adversaries.”

The police released closed-circuit video footage last week purportedly showing the moment Ms Amini collapsed, but her family say she had no history of heart trouble.

Her father Amjad Amini told an Iranian news website that witnesses saw her being shoved into a police car.

“I asked for access to (videos) from cameras inside the car as well as courtyard of the police station, but they gave no answer,” he said.

He also accused the police of not transferring her to hospital promptly enough, saying she could have been resuscitated.

Mr Amini said that when he arrived at the hospital he was not allowed to view the body, but managed to get a glimpse of bruising on her foot.

Authorities then pressured him to bury her at night, apparently to reduce the likelihood of protests, but Mr Amini said the family convinced them to let them bury her at 8am instead.

Ms Amini, who was Kurdish, was buried on Saturday in her home city of Saqez in western Iran. Protests erupted there after her funeral and police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators on Saturday and Sunday. Several protesters were arrested.

The protests spread to Tehran and other cities on Monday. A news website affiliated with state TV said 22 people were arrested at a protest in the northern city of Rasht, the first official confirmation of arrests related to the protests.

State TV showed footage of protests on Monday, including images of two police cars with their windows smashed. It said the protesters torched two motorbikes as well, and burned Iranian flags in Kurdish areas and Tehran.

The state-run broadcaster blamed the unrest on foreign countries and exiled opposition groups, accusing them of using Ms Amini’s death as a pretext for more economic sanctions.

Iran has seen waves of protests in recent years, mainly over a long-running economic crisis exacerbated by western sanctions linked to the country’s nuclear programme. Authorities have quashed the protests by force.

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