Mahsa Amini protests enter fourth week despite Iran's crackdown

President Ebrahim Raisi visits all-women university in Tehran as new academic year begins

An Iranian protester holds a placard showing Mahsa Amini, during a protest following her death, outside of the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 7. EPA / Sedat Suna
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Schoolgirls chanted slogans, workers went on strike and street clashes erupted across Iran on Saturday, as protests over the death of Mahsa Amini entered a fourth week in defiance of a bloody crackdown.

Anger flared after the 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman died in custody on September 16, three days after she was arrested in Tehran by the notorious morality police for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic's strict dress code for women.

Iran said on Friday that a coroner's investigation found Amini had died of a longstanding illness rather than "blows" to the head, despite her family reportedly saying she had been healthy.

But the protests continued on Saturday, even as ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi posed for a group photograph with female students at Tehran's Al Zahra University to mark the start of the academic year.

Mr Raisi and other leaders have accused outside forces, including the US and Israel and Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups based in Iraq, of fomenting the unrest.

"They imagine they can achieve their evil goals in universities. Unbeknownst to them that our students and professors are alert and will not allow the enemy to realise their evil goals," the presidency quoted him as saying.

The demonstrations have continued despite internet restrictions to prevent gatherings and a violent clampdown that has claimed more than 150 lives, according to human rights groups, with protesters adopting new tactics to get their message across.

"We are not afraid anymore. We will fight," said a large banner placed on an overpass of the Modares highway that cuts through central Tehran, according to online images verified by AFP.

In another widely shared video, a man is seen altering the wording of a large government billboard from "The police are the servants of the people" to "The police are the murderers of the people".

Hengaw, a Kurdish rights group based in Norway, said "widespread strikes" were taking place in Saqez, Sanandaj and Divandarreh, in Kurdistan province, as well as Mahabad in West Azerbaijan province.

In Amini's hometown Saqez, in the western province of Kurdistan, schoolgirls were heard chanting "Woman, life, freedom" and seen marching down a street swinging headscarves over their heads, in videos Hengaw said were recorded on Saturday.

In another video it shared, a group of girls could be heard chanting the same protest slogan as they entered a school in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province.

Hengaw said security forces shot at protesters and used tear gas in Sanandaj and Saqez.

Shots could be heard as protesters clashed with security forces on a street in Sanandaj, in a video shared by the 1500tasvir social media channel that monitors violations in the Islamic republic.

The same source said there were protests in the southern city of Shiraz.

It also shared a verified video of a demonstration in Karaj, a city west of Tehran, as well as footage of drivers honking car horns in the southern city of Kerman, as dozens of people gathered on the roadside.

The Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights says at least 92 protesters have been killed in the crackdown, which has fuelled tensions between Iran and the West, especially its arch enemy the United States.

Mr Raisi, an ultraconservative who in July called for the mobilisation of all state institutions to enforce hijab rules, appealed for unity.

"Despite all the efforts of ill-wishers, the strong and hardworking people of Islamic Iran will overcome the problems ahead with unity and cohesion," he was quoted as saying on the presidency's website.

Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of stirring up the protests and last week announced that nine foreign nationals, including from France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the Netherlands, had been arrested.

On Friday, the French government advised its nationals visiting Iran to "leave the country as soon as possible", citing the risk of arbitrary detention.

The Dutch government advised its citizens to avoid travelling to Iran or to leave when they could do so safely.

"In many towns in the country there may be demonstrations which can turn violent. The demonstrations are increasing," it said in a statement.

"The police sometimes act harshly and in an arbitrary fashion... Iranian authorities can also arbitrarily detain people with a foreign nationality."

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian charity worker who was held in Tehran for six years until her release in March, called on the UK government to act over Iran's human rights abuses, in an interview aired on Saturday on Britain's Sky News.

"I want the [UK government] to observe what is happening, not to turn a blind eye. I want them to protect us. We cannot be indifferent about what is happening in Iran," she said.

"And if we talk about protecting rights of our citizens, we have to do something about it. And I think we have to hold Iran accountable."

— With reporting from AFP and Reuters

Updated: October 08, 2022, 1:37 PM