Violent demonstrations across Iran continued on Wednesday for a fifth day, resulting in the killing of at least eight people as anger over the death of a woman in police custody escalates, human rights groups said.
The protests, led mostly by women, erupted in more than a dozen cities and at universities in Tehran following the death on Friday of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested three days earlier for allegedly breaking Iran’s strict hijab law.
Amini, who was from Iran's western Kurdistan province, fell into a coma after being arrested by morality police.
Iranian officials said Amini died on Friday from a heart attack after three days in an intensive care unit, following her arrest last Tuesday.
But her family said she had no known health problems and that she had suffered bruises to her legs.
They held the police accountable for her death, sparking anger at home and abroad.
In a fifth night of street rallies that had spread to 15 cities, police used tear gas and made arrests to disperse crowds of up to 1,000, Iranian state media reported on Wednesday.
London-based rights group Article 19 said it was “deeply concerned by reports of the unlawful use of force by Iranian police and security forces”, including the use of live ammunition.
Demonstrators hurled stones at security forces, set fire to police vehicles and rubbish bins and chanted anti-government slogans, the official Irna news agency reported.
It said rallies were held in cities including Mashhad, Tabriz, Isfahan and Shiraz.
Videos on social media showed women burning their hijabs in protest and cutting their hair in front of large crowds who were cheering their actions.
Some chanted “death to the dictator”.
In the nationwide condemnation of Amini's death, the Farsi hashtag #MahsaAmini has achieved more than three million Twitter mentions since Friday.
Protests continued on Wednesday in Iranian Kurdistan, around Tehran's main universities and also, unusually, at the Tehran bazaar, images showed.
“Woman, life, freedom”, protesters shouted, while demonstrators on Tuesday night were shown starting fires and trying to overturn police vehicles in several cities.
Women were seen encouraging others to come out and protest.
The Norway-based Kurdish rights group Hengaw, which had first reported three deaths amid the protests, said on Wednesday that two more protesters had been killed overnight.
The two, aged 16 and 23, died in the towns of Piranshahr and Urmia, both in West Azerbaijan province, the group said.
Another male protester wounded in Divandarreh on September 17 later died in hospital, it said.
“The number of deaths in the protests has increased to eight,” the group said, also reporting that about 450 people had been wounded and 500 arrested, in figures that could not be independently verified.
In response, the government condemned what it called “foreign interventionist positions”.
“It is regrettable that some countries try to take advantage of an incident under investigation as an opportunity to pursue their political goals and desires against the government and people of Iran,” foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said on Tuesday.
Iran's Telecoms Minister Issa Zarepour on Wednesday warned of internet restrictions owing to the “security issues of these days”, the Isna news agency reported.
Article 19 said it was “alarmed by the local internet shutdowns”, recalling that in 2019, authorities had “used the darkness of a shutdown to kill, maim and arrest protesters and bystanders with impunity”.
Iran has cut off access to social media platforms Instagram and WhatsApp, two of the last remaining social networks in the country, UK internet watchdog NetBlocks said on Wednesday.
The group's data have shown a near total disruption to internet service in parts of Iran's western Kurdistan province since Monday, while Tehran and other parts of the country have also faced disruptions since last Friday, when protests first broke out.
Hundreds of people have been arrested and dozens injured in the protests, some hit by shotgun pellets fired by police.
The protests are among the most serious in the country since the November 2019 unrest over fuel price increases.