Iranian women continue to demand freedom and justice after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the police of the morality brigade that the US has chosen to sanction following the murder of the young woman

Protests in Iran: two police stations set on fire and at least 17 killed

photo_camera PHOTO/FILE - Protests led by women have spread and intensified in different parts of the country to the cry of "justice, freedom and no to the compulsory hijab"

The anger unleashed after the murder of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman arrested for improperly wearing a veil, continues to sweep the streets of Iran. From Iranian Kurdistan - Amini's place of origin - protests led by women have spread and intensified in different parts of the country to the cry of "justice, freedom and no to the compulsory hijab".

Protesters also expressed their rejection of the authorities by chanting "death to the dictator", in reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as "Mojtaba, we hope you die before you become the Supreme Leader".

As a sign of this rejection of the country's misogynistic laws, Iranian women have removed their veils - something forbidden in the country - and even set them on fire. "The mandatory hijab is the main pillar of a gender apartheid regime," writes Iranian activist Masih Alinejad on Twitter.

The flames have spread to two police stations, a bank and several security force vehicles. "We will die, but we will take back Iran," protesters shouted near the fire, according to a video posted on social media. According to local media, the death toll has risen to 17, including three members of the Basich paramilitary force - part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard - who were reportedly stabbed by protesters. 

In addition to the deaths, hundreds have been injured. Security forces respond violently to the protests, using tear gas and water cannons. "They were firing tear gas, our eyes were burning. We were trying to run away, but they cornered me and beat me while calling me a prostitute," a woman from Rasht told the BBC. Amnesty International has reported that police also use metal pellets against protesters.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard has called on the Iranian judiciary to prosecute "those who spread false news and rumours" about Amini's death. The authorities maintain that the 22-year-old died a natural death. The government opted to restrict access to the internet, blocking social networks such as Instagram and WhatsApp.

"By the decision of the authorities, it is no longer possible to access Instagram in Iran since last night (Wednesday), and access to WhatsApp is also cut off," Fars news agency reported. These measures were taken because of "counter-revolutionary actions against national security through these social networks", the agency adds.

Protests spread internationally as US sanctions morality police 

The rejection of Amini's death has crossed borders. Iranian women abroad have demonstrated in countries such as Lebanon and Turkey, where one girl cut her hair in protest in front of the Iranian consulate in Istanbul.

"The Iranian women's struggle for freedom is our own struggle, long live our international solidarity," read a banner at the protest near the consulate, reports AFP. Other Turkish women also cut their hair in solidarity with the Iranian women. "The women resisting in Iran will never walk alone", they stressed.

The protests have also reached the United Nations headquarters in New York, where the 77th General Assembly summit is being held these days, in which Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has taken part. "Raisi does not deserve a seat at the UN and is not the president of the people of Iran. Raisi is a mass murderer," activist Raha Heshmatikhah tells The Times of Israel. "It is horrible and unethical for an institution like the UN to welcome and allow Raisi to take a seat," she adds.

Demonstrators also carried pictures of Amini and protested against the compulsory veiling. "We are not asking Biden to bring us democracy. The people of Iran are brave enough. We don't want them to save us, we want them to stop saving the regime," said Masih Alinejad.

In this regard, the Biden administration has chosen to sanction the morality police, who were responsible for Amini's death. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen described the murder as "another act of brutality by the Iranian regime's security forces against its own people". Yellen also said that this action demonstrates "the Biden-Harris Administration's clear commitment to upholding human rights and women's rights in Iran and around the world".

In addition to the Iranian brigade, Washington has sanctioned seven heads of security organisations for "using violence to repress peaceful demonstrators and members of Iranian civil society, political dissidents, women's rights activists, and members of the Iranian Baha'i community". 

Hopes for change 

Iran's current protests are the worst the country has seen since the 2019 riots over petrol price hikes that left 1,500 people dead, according to Reuters. As Mahmoud Amiry-Moghaddam, director of the NGO Iran Human Rights - quoted by AFP - says, Amini's murder "was probably the last straw that has broken the camel's back". "It could be the beginning of a big change," he predicts.

Azadeh Kian, a sociology professor specialising in Iran at Paris Cit茅 University, stresses that these protests are "unprecedented" because they are led by women. Kian recalls that economic crises, unemployment and the political situation have been the main causes of demonstrations in recent years. But this time, "we are hearing protests not only against the general situation in the country, but also for women's rights. It's an important change," she adds. 

Women are leading the protests and men, in many cases, are supporting them. "As we waved our veils in the air, I felt very excited to be surrounded and protected by men. It's great to feel this unity. I hope the world will support us," a female protester in Isfahan told the BBC's Ali Hamedeani.

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