Iran restricts social media as hijab protests widen

Iran restricts social media as hijab protests widen

Seven people have been killed as violent protests erupt across Iran after the death of a woman detained for failing to wear her hijab properly.

Iranian authorities restricted access to social media such as WhatsApp and Instagram on Thursday, the fifth day of widespread protests at the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old from Iranian Kurdistan who died last week after being arrested in Tehran for “unsuitable attire”.

Ms Amini was reportedly detained by morality police because some of her hair was showing from her loosely-styled hijab.

After being taken to a detention centre, Ms Amini was reportedly brutally beaten by officers, and sustained serious head injuries.

She spent three days in a coma before dying in a Tehran hospital on September 16.

Police said Ms Amini suffered “sudden heart failure”.

Her family insists she was fit and healthy at the time of her death.

“They’re lying. They’re telling lies. Everything is a lie … no matter how much I begged, they wouldn’t let me see my daughter,” Amjad Amini told BBC Persia on Wednesday.

He said his daughter’s body was tightly wrapped before her funeral, except for her feet and face. And he saw bruising on her feet.

“I have no idea what they did to her,” Mr Amini said.

A protester in Germany holds a photo of Mahsa Amini. Photo: Getty

Social media repressed

Kurdish rights group Hengaw said seven protesters had been killed by security forces, three on Tuesday, in or near the Kurdish areas in the north-west where unrest has been intense.

Officials denied that protesters have been killed by security forces.

Iranian police deployed anti-riot water trucks, while plain-clothed authorities reportedly deceived protesters, filming them involved in demonstrations before placing them under arrest.

With the protests spreading to more than 50 cities and towns, authorities restricted access to the internet, according to accounts from Hengaw, residents and internet shutdown observatory NetBlocks.

Instagram had been restricted – it is the only major social media platform that Iran allows, and has millions of users.

WhatsApp users said they could send only text, not pictures, while Hengaw said access to the internet had been cut in Kurdistan.

Mobile internet services were also cut in some areas to curtail protests.

Anger unleashed

Ms Amini’s death has unleashed anger over repressive conditions in the Islamic Republic, and an economy reeling from sanctions.

Women have waved and burnt their veils during protests, with some cutting their hair in public.

Since the country’s Islamic revolution in 1978, Iran’s laws state women above the age of nine must wear hijabs that cover their head, neck and hair, and cover their bodies in loose-fitting clothing.

This applies to all women who visit the country, regardless of nationality or religion.

Official punishments for failing the veiling laws can include arrest, a prison sentence, flogging or a fine, and Iran’s morality police have been known to enforce the rules with further physical violence.

The Iranian government expressed its intent to further crack down on the veiling laws earlier this month.

Women who posted pictures on the internet of themselves without a hijab were threatened with the removal of some “social rights” for up to a year.

The government said it planned to eventually use facial recognition technology to identify those not following the rules.

Standing in solidarity

Since news broke of Ms Amini’s death, the outrage has been strongest among Iranian women.

Social media videos have shown women publicly removing and burning their headscarves. Others have posted photos of themselves cutting off their hair.

Videos showed women shouting “death to the dictator”, in reference to the nation’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Others shouted “justice, liberty, no to mandatory hijab”.

The world reacts

The fury over Ms Amini’s death has gone global.

American Iranians and supporters took to the streets outside the United Nations’ New York headquarters on Thursday as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was due to deliver his debut speech to the UN General Assembly.

Iranian expats and supporters in Cologne, Melbourne and Vancouver also publicly protested about Ms Amini’s death and demanded change.

People have showed their solidarity on social media, many filming themselves cutting their locks to express their support of protesters.

@rezzamiin For #mahsaamini Iranian women who are burning their ⁦‪#hijab‬⁩ and cutting off their hair in protest against the death of a 22-year-old woman. ⁦‪#Iran‬⁩ ‎⁦‪#mahsa_amini ‬⁩ ‎⁧‫#مهسا_امینی ♬ original sound – em🤍

Supermodel Bella Hadid, of Palestinian descent, shared an image of Ms Amini to her Instagram, writing that Ms Amini “did not deserve this”.

Albanian-British singer Dua Lipa also shared her disgust with her millions of followers on Thursday, calling the news “unbelievably cruel and heartbreaking”.

Amnesty International deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa Diana Eltahawy said:  “The global outpouring of rage and empathy over Mahsa Amini’s death must be followed by concrete steps by the international community to tackle the crisis of systemic impunity that has allowed widespread torture, extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings by Iranian authorities to continue unabated …”

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