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Women burn headscarves in Iran anti-hijab protests

BY: The BBC
A woman set fire to her headscarf during a protest in Tehran on Monday
A woman set fire to her headscarf during a protest in Tehran on Monday

Female protesters have been at the forefront of escalating protests in Iran and have been burning headscarves, after the death in custody of a woman detained for breaking hijab laws.

Demonstrations have continued for five successive nights, and reached several towns and cities.

Mahsa Amini died in hospital on Friday after spending three days in a coma.

In Sari, north of Tehran, large crowds cheered as women set their hijabs alight in defiant acts of protest.

Ms Amini was arrested in the capital last week by Iran's morality police, accused of breaking the law requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab, or headscarf, and their arms and legs with loose clothing.

She fell into a coma shortly after collapsing at a detention centre.

There were reports that police beat Ms Amini's head with a baton and banged her head against one of their vehicles, Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada al-Nashif said.

The police have denied that she was mistreated and said she suffered "sudden heart failure". Ms Amini's family has said she was fit and healthy.

The 22-year-old was from Kurdistan Province in western Iran, where three people were killed on Monday as security forces opened fire on protesters.

An aide to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei paid a visit to Ms Amini's family on Monday and told them that "all institutions will take action to defend the rights that were violated", state media reported.

Senior MP Jalal Rashidi Koochi publicly criticised the morality police, saying the force was a "mistake" as it had only produced "loss and damage" for Iran.

What are Iran's hijab laws?
Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, authorities in Iran imposed a mandatory dress code requiring all women to wear a headscarf and loose-fitting clothing that disguises their figures in public.

Morality police - known formally as "Gasht-e Ershad" (Guidance Patrols) - are tasked, among other things, with ensuring women conform with the authorities' interpretation of "proper" clothing. Officers have the power to stop women and assess whether they are showing too much hair; their trousers and overcoats are too short or close-fitting; or they are wearing too much make-up. Punishments for violating the rules include a fine, prison or flogging.

In 2014, Iranian women began sharing photos and videos of themselves publicly flouting the hijab laws as part of an online protest campaign called "My Stealthy Freedom". It has since inspired other movements, including "White Wednesdays" and "Girls of Revolution Street".

Hengaw, a Norway-based organisation that monitors human rights in predominantly Kurdish areas, said 38 people were injured on Saturday and Sunday when riot police fired live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas at protests in Saqez and Sanandaj, the capital of Iran's Kurdistan province.

The group reported that three male protesters were shot and killed in clashes with security forces on Monday - one in Saqez and two others in the towns of Divandarreh and Dehgolan - as the unrest escalated. It had previously reported the death of a second man in Divandarreh, but relatives said he was in a critical condition in hospital.

In Tehran, videos posted online showed women taking off their headscarves and shouting "death to the dictator" - a chant often used in reference to the Supreme Leader. Others shouted "justice, liberty, no to mandatory hijab". In the northern province of Gilan, protesters also clashed with police.

A woman who took part in a protest on Monday night in the northern city of Rasht sent BBC Persian photographs of what she said were bruises she suffered as a result of being beaten by riot police with batons and hoses.

"[The police] kept firing tear gas. Our eyes were burning," she said. "We were running away, [but] they cornered me and beat me. They were calling me a prostitute and saying I was out in the street to sell myself.

Another woman who protested in the central city of Isfahan told the BBC's Ali Hamedani: "While we were waving our headscarves in the sky I felt so emotional to be surrounded and protected by other men. It feels great to see this unity. I hope the world supports us."

Tehran Governor Mohsen Mansouri tweeted on Tuesday that the protests were "fully organised with the agenda to create unrest", while state TV alleged that Ms Amini's death was being used as an "excuse" by Kurdish separatists and critics of the establishment.

Credit: The BBC