Iranian woman’s death ignites ‘morality police’ critics


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Tehran (AFP) – As Iran is rocked by the death of a woman after her arrest by its “morality police,” the Sunday front page of the financial newspaper Asia declared, “Dear Mahsa, your name becomes a symbol.”

The police force – responsible for enforcing Iran’s strict dress code for women, particularly the wearing of a headscarf in public – has come under increasing criticism in recent months for its excessive use of force.

The death of Mahsa Amini, 22, has reignited calls to curb her actions against women suspected of violating the dress code in place since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The day after her funeral, almost all Iranian media devoted their front pages to her story on Sunday.

“The nation has expressed its sorrow at Mahsa’s sad death,” read the front page of the ultra-conservative Javan newspaper.

Originally from the northwestern province of Kurdistan, Amini was visiting the capital Tehran with her family when she was arrested on Tuesday.

She was pronounced dead by state television on Friday after being in a coma for three days. Shortly thereafter, a crowd gathered in front of the Kasra Hospital in central Tehran.

In her hometown of Saghez, where her body was buried on Saturday, some residents threw stones at the governor’s office and shouted anti-authority slogans, according to Fars news agency.

“People are shocked and outraged by what happened to Mahsa Amini,” noted the reformist publication Etemad, explaining that the country had suffered “several incidents of violence from the vice squad.”

The moderate daily Jomhouri-e Eslami warned of “social fragmentation” being triggered by the “violent behavior” of the unit’s officers.

The Conservatives are fighting back

President Ebrahim Raisi, an ultra-conservative former justice chief who came to power last year, has ordered an inquest into Amini’s death.

The official state news agency IRNA reported on Sunday that Raisi promised the family in a phone call to follow up the case, telling them: “Your daughter is like my own daughter and I feel that this incident happened to one of my own relatives .”

However, some of the more conservative media tried to buck the barrage of criticism.

Iran’s state-run daily accused reformists of “exploiting public sentiment by using an unfortunate incident to turn the nation against the government and the president.”

“Nonetheless, the release of images of this incident by the police has deterred opportunists from exploiting it,” the publication argued.

It referred to a short video from a surveillance camera broadcast by state television on Friday, which allegedly shows her falling to the ground in a large hall full of women while arguing with one of the instructors about clothes.

In a statement on Friday, Tehran police insisted there had been “no physical encounter” between officers and Amini.

The head of Tehran’s coroner’s office told state television on Saturday that investigations into the cause of death would take up to three weeks.

1.5 million tweets

Filmmakers, artists, athletes, and political and religious figures have taken to social media to vent their anger against vice police inside and outside the country.

Former President and reformer Mohammad Khatami called on the authorities to “stop acting against law, logic and Sharia” or Islamic law and “bring the perpetrators to justice”.

Grand Ayatollah Assadollah Bayat Zanjani, a cleric seen as close to the reformists, condemned what he called “illegitimate” and “illegal” acts behind “this regrettable incident.”

“The Koran clearly forbids the use of force” to enforce religious and moral values, he said.

Two-time Academy Award winner Asghar Farhadi said that “Mahsa is more alive than we are now” because “we remain silent in the face of such boundless cruelty. We are complicit in this crime.”

“Our girls’ hair is covered with a shroud,” several footballers from the Iran national team wrote in a joint story shared on Instagram.

“If they are Muslims, may God make me an unbeliever,” said Sardar Azmoun, who plays for German club Bayer Leverkusen.

On Twitter, the hashtag #Masha_Amini had collected almost 1.5 million tweets as of Sunday afternoon.


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