By Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI, Sept 30 (Reuters) – A senior Iranian cleric called for tough action on Friday against protesters enraged by the death of a young woman in police custody who are demanding the downfall of the country’s leaders in the biggest crisis since 2019.
“Our security is our distinctive privilege. The Iranian people demand the harshest punishment for these barbaric rioters,” said Mohammad Javad Haj Ali Akbari, a leader of prayers that are held on Fridays in Tehran before a large gathering.
“The people want the death of Mahsa Amini to be cleared up…so that enemies cannot take advantage of this incident.”
Amini, a 22-year-old from the Iranian Kurdish town of Saqez, was arrested this month in Tehran for “unsuitable attire” by the morality police who enforce the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women.
Her death has caused the first big show of opposition on Iran‘s streets since authorities crushed protests against a rise in gasoline prices in 2019. The demonstrations have quickly evolved into a popular revolt against the clerical establishment.
Heavy shooting could be heard on videos posted on social media, as protesters chanted “Death to Khamenei”, referring to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Amnesty International said on Friday the government crackdown on demonstrations has so far led to the death of at least 52 people, with hundreds injured.
The human rights group said in a statement it had obtained a copy of an official document that records that the General Headquarters of Armed Forces issued an order to commanders in all provinces to “severely confront” protesters described as “troublemakers and anti-revolutionaries”.
POLICE STATIONS ATTACKED
Despite the growing death toll and crackdown by authorities, videos posted on Twitter showed demonstrators calling for the fall of the clerical establishment.
Activist Twitter account 1500tasvir, which has more than 150,000 followers, posted videos which it said showed protests in cities including Ahvaz in the southwest, Mashhad in the northeast and Zahedan in the southeast, where people were said to be attacking a police station.
Reuters could not verify the footage.
State television said “unidentified armed individuals” opened fire on a police station in Zahedan in the southeast, prompting security forces to return fire.
The semi-official Fars news agency said at least two people were killed and dozens injured, citing unspecified reports.
Protests have spread to restive southeast Iran, home to the Baluch ethnic minority, with demonstrators torching government offices in at least one city. Protesters are angered by Amini’s death and the case of a local teenage girl whose family, backed by a local cleric, alleges was raped by a senior policeman, according to reports on social media.
Western human rights groups say that Iran, dominated by its Persian Shi’ite majority, discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities. Tehran denies this.
Iran has come under international condemnation over Amini’s death and its handling of the nationwide demonstrations.
Rights group Open Stadiums have called on FIFA to throw Iran out of the World Cup finals in Qatar in November because of the country’s treatment of women. Read full story
Meanwhile, Iran rejected criticism of its missile and drone attack on Wednesday on the Iraqi Kurdistan region where Iranian armed dissident Kurdish groups are based. The United States called it “an unjustified violation of Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity”. Read full storyRead full story
“Iran has repeatedly asked the Iraqi central government officials and regional authorities to prevent the activities of separatist and terrorist groups that are active against the Islamic Republic,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani told state media.
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Frances Kerry, Angus MacSwan and Alex Richardson)