Iranian authorities and a Kurdish rights group reported a spike in the death toll on Wednesday as anger over the death of a woman detained by the morality police fueled protests for a fifth day and new restrictions were imposed on social media.
Iranian media and a local prosecutor said four people had been killed in the past two days, bringing the total death toll according to official sources to eight, including a member of the police and a member of the pro-government militia. .
The protests erupted after the death in custody last week of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old from Iranian Kurdistan who was arrested in Tehran for “inappropriate dress”.
The protests, which have been concentrated in Kurdish-populated northwestern regions of Iran but have spread to at least 50 cities and towns across the country, are the largest since a wave of protests in 2019 against rising gasoline prices.
According to reports from the Kurdish rights group Hengaw, which Reuters could not verify, 10 protesters were killed. Three people died on Wednesday, adding to the seven people the group said were killed by security forces.
Officials denied that security forces killed protesters, suggesting they may have been shot by armed dissidents.
With no sign of the protests abating, authorities have restricted internet access, according to testimony from Hengaw, residents and internet shutdown observatory NetBlocks.
Activists have expressed concern that the internet shutdown echoes a government decision before the crackdown on fuel price protests in 2019, when Reuters reported that 1,500 people were killed.
NetBlocks and locals said access had been restricted to Instagram – the only major social media platform Iran usually allows and which has millions of users – and some mobile phone networks had been shut down .
“Iran is now under the toughest internet restrictions since the November 2019 massacre,” NetBlocks said.
WhatsApp users said they could only send text, not images, while Hengaw said internet access had been cut in Kurdistan province – measures that would prevent the sharing of videos from a region where authorities have previously suppressed unrest by the Kurdish minority.
Meta Platforms, the owner of Instagram and WhatsApp, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Amini’s death has sparked anger over issues such as freedoms in the Islamic Republic and a sanctions-reeling economy. Women played a prominent role in the protests, waving and burning their veils, some cutting their hair in public.
Amini fell into a coma while in the custody of the morality police, which enforce strict rules in Iran requiring women to cover their hair and wear loose clothing in public. His funeral took place on Saturday.
Her father said she had no health problems and suffered bruises on her legs in detention. He holds the police responsible for his death. The police denied harming him.
A senior Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered his condolences to Amini’s family this week, promising to follow up on the matter and saying Khamenei was saddened by his death.
Activists said they fear an escalation in the crackdown. “We fear the world will forget about Iran as soon as the regime shuts down the internet – which is already happening,” one activist told Reuters.
The Fars news agency, close to the elite Revolutionary Guards, released videos accusing protesters of setting fire to a mosque, an Islamic shrine and buses, attacking a bank and snatching a woman’s veil.
Such accusations against dissidents preceded violent crackdowns after protests dating back to the 2009 unrest.
“We are getting warnings from security organizations to end the protests or face jail,” said an activist from the northwestern province of Kurdistan.
Fars said on Wednesday that a member of the Basij, a militia under the Revolutionary Guards umbrella, was killed in the northwestern city of Tabriz, while the official IRNA news agency said that A ‘police aide’ died of his injuries in the southern city on Tuesday. from Shiraz.
A Kermanshah prosecutor said two people were killed in riots on Tuesday, blaming the armed dissidents because the victims were killed by weapons not used by police. Meanwhile, Kurdistan’s police chief confirmed four deaths earlier this week in the province, blaming ‘gangs’ for their deaths.
Hengaw said 450 people were injured in addition to the 10 protesters he said died in protests mostly in the northwest. Reuters could not independently confirm the casualty reports.
Videos shared on social media showed protesters damaging Islamic Republic symbols and clashing with security forces.
One showed a man climbing the facade of the town hall in Sari, in the north of the country, and demolishing an image of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic after the 1979 revolution.
Hundreds of people shouted “death to the dictator” at Tehran University on Wednesday in Tehran, a video shared by 1500tasvir showed. Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the video.