Protesters across Iran continued to violently clash with security forces early Friday after the death of a young woman in police custody, as Iranian state television suggested the death toll from the unrest could be as high as 26, without giving details.
Though the extent of the protests in a few dozen Iranian cities remains unclear, the movement represents the biggest unrest since 2019, when rights groups said hundreds of people had been killed in a violent crackdown. Iran has also disrupted internet access to the outside world and tightened restrictions on popular platforms used to organize rallies like Instagram and WhatsApp, according to internet traffic monitor Netblocks.
A state television presenter said late Thursday that 26 protesters and police officers had been killed since protests erupted last Saturday following the funeral of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, without detailing how authorities reached that number. He said official statistics would be released later, but in previous periods of unrest, the Iranian government has not offered official death tolls.
The riots have killed at least 11 people, according to a tally by The Associated Press, based on statements by state and semi-official media. Recently, Qazvin Deputy Governor Abolhasan Kabiri said a citizen and paramilitary officer had been killed in riots that shook two towns in the northwestern province.
The crisis unfolding in Iran began as an outpouring of the death of Amini, a young woman from a northwestern Kurdish town who was arrested by the country’s vice squad in Tehran last week for allegedly violating a strictly enforced dress code.
Her death has drawn condemnation from Western countries and the United Nations, and has struck a national nerve. Videos show Amini wearing a long black veil and a government-mandated Islamic headscarf at the time of her arrest.
Police said she died of a heart attack and was not ill-treated. But her family doubts it, as do many Iranians, who take to the streets to vent their pent-up anger at social and political oppression. Authorities have claimed unnamed foreign countries and opposition groups are trying to foment unrest.
Videos on social media show protesters in Tehran setting fire to a police car and confronting officers at close range. Elsewhere in the capital, videos show gunshots ringing out as protesters run from riot police, shouting, “They are shooting at people! Oh my god, they kill people!”
In the northwestern city of Neyshabur, protesters cheered at an overturned police car. Footage from Tehran and Mashhad shows women waving their mandatory hijab headwear like flags in the air while shouting “Freedom!”
The chants were scathing, some calling for the overthrow of the ruling clergy. The demonstrators shout: “Death to the dictator!” and “Mullahs have to go!”
London-based watchdog Amnesty International has accused security forces of hitting protesters with batons and firing metal balls at close range. Videos show police officers and paramilitaries using live fire, tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrations.
Iran has grappled with waves of protests in the recent past, largely over a protracted economic crisis exacerbated by American sanctions related to its nuclear program. In November 2019, the country experienced its deadliest violence since the 1979 Islamic Revolution as protests erupted over a rise in state-controlled petrol prices.
Economic hardship remains a main source of anger as Iran’s currency depreciates and unemployment remains high.
The Biden administration and European allies have been working to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Iran restricted its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions lifting, but talks have stalled for months.