Protests broke out in western Iran on Saturday at the funeral of Mahsa Amini, 22, who died after being detained by morality police enforcing strict hijab rules, as security forces used tear gas to disperse demonstrators.
Videos posted on social media showed protesters shouting anti-government slogans after gathering in Amini's home of Saqez from nearby cities in Iran's Kurdistan province. She died in a hospital in the capital Tehran on Friday.
The crowd chanted “Death to the dictator”, meaning Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, while some women took off their headscarves. Police were seen firing tear gas and one man was shown on a video with a head injury that someone could be heard saying was caused by birdshot. Reuters could not authenticate the videos.
In recent months, rights activists have urged women to remove their veils in public, a gesture that would risk their arrest for defying a dress code as the country's rulers crack down on “immoral behaviour”.
Videos posted on social media have shown cases of what appeared to be heavy-handed action by morality police units against women who had removed their hijabs.
Protests spread later on Saturday to the provincial capital, Sanandaj, with social media videos showing crowds chanting “Saqez is not alone, it's supported by Sanandaj”. Marchers were seen confronting riot police amid the sound of sporadic gunfire.
Authorities have launched an investigation into the death of Amini, but a medical examiner said on Saturday that results of forensic tests may take three weeks. Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli told state TV there was no report that she was beaten.
Police said Amini fell into a coma as she waited together with other detained women at a morality police station, rejecting allegations on social media that she was probably beaten. Police released closed-circuit television footage apparently supporting their version of events. Reuters could not authenticate the video, which appeared to have been edited.
Police earlier said Amini had suffered a heart attack after being taken to the station to be “educated”. Her relatives have denied she suffered any heart condition.
Prominent sports and arts figures posted critical social media comments about Amini's death and protests were held in a Tehran on Friday amid a heavy presence of riot police.
As during past protests, authorities appeared to have restricted mobile internet access in Saqez and nearby areas, social media posts said.
Internet blockage observatory NetBlocks reported “a significant internet outage” in Tehran on Friday, linking it to the protests.
Under Iranian laws imposed after the 1979 revolution, women are obliged to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise their figures. Violators face public rebuke, fines or arrest.
Decades after the revolution, clerical rulers still struggle to enforce the law, with many women of all ages and backgrounds wearing tight-fitting, thigh-length coats and brightly coloured scarves pushed back to show their hair.