An aide to Iran’s supreme leader paid condolences to the family of a woman whose death in police custody has sparked days of protests and promised their rights would not be ignored, Iranian media said on Tuesday, in an apparent effort to defuse tensions.
Mahsa Amini, 22, from Iran’s Kurdistan province, fell into a coma and died after her arrest in Tehran last week by the morality police for “unsuitable attire”, sparking nationwide anger and demonstrations against the authorities in numerous areas, including the capital.
The protests spread on Monday, with the most intense in the Kurdish region. Kurdish human rights group Hengaw said three people were killed there on Monday when security forces opened fire, revising down a previous tally of five dead.
Reuters could not independently verify the report, and there was no official confirmation of the fatalities.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative in the Kurdistan province, Abdolreza Pourzahabi, paid a two-hour visit to Amini’s family home on Monday, the semi-official Tasnim news agency said, citing comments from Pourzahabi that were also reported by the state news agency.
Pourzahabi told Amini’s family “all institutions will take action to defend the rights that were violated” and that he was sure Khamenei was “also affected and pained” by her death.
“I hope that with this sympathy and your family’s good faith, the trauma that has been suffered in the society will be corrected,” Pourzahabi said he told the family.
“As I promised to the family of Ms. Amini, I will also follow up the issue of her death until the final result.”
The police have said Amini fell ill as she waited with other women held by the morality police, who enforce strict rules in the Islamic Republic requiring women to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothes in public.
But her father has repeatedly said his daughter had no health problems, adding that she had suffered bruises to her legs. He held the police responsible for her death.
In the nationwide condemnations of Amini’s death, the Persian hashtag #MahsaAmini has reached over 3 million Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) mentions.
Videos posted on social media have shown demonstrations in numerous cities, with women waving their headscarves and protesters facing off with security forces.
Protesters marched through Tehran’s Grand Bazaar on Monday chanting “Mahsa Amini, Rest in Peace”, according to a video posted by the widely-followed 1500tasvir Twitter account, which publishes footage it says it receives from the public.
In one large protest in Tehran, a crowd of demonstrators wearing black shouted “Oh the day when we will be armed”, according to another video posted by 1500tasvir overnight.
Reuters has been unable to verify the videos.
Sanam Vakil of the Chatham House think tank said the protests speak to “a deep sense of popular anger, directly connected to the very tragic death of Mahsa Amini, but also shed light on the groundswell of issues that ordinary Iranians face every day related to security, freedom”.
Though the protests were significant, she added: “I don’t think this is an existential challenge to the regime … because the system in Iran has a monopoly of force, a well-honed security strategy that it is already implementing.”
The governor of Tehran accused protesters of assaulting police and destroying public property during the protests. In the northern province of Gilan, police arrested 22 people for destroying public property, the deputy police commander said.
In the Kurdish region of northwestern Iran, the rights organisation Hengaw said there were protests in 13 cities on Monday and that 250 people had been arrested.
Hengaw gave the names of three people who it said had been killed during protests in three different cities, including Amini’s hometown of Saqez. Hengaw said a person previously identified as dead was in fact wounded.
The United States on Monday demanded accountability, saying Amini died “after injuries sustained while in police custody for wearing an ‘improper’ hijab”. France also condemned her arrest, “and the violence that caused her death”.
On Monday, the Tehran police commander described her death as an “unfortunate” incident, while rejecting what he said were “cowardly accusations” against the police.