Iran: Investigate death of Mahsa Amini and crackdown on protesters

AFP

Paris, 23 September 2022. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI), and Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC) call for a prompt, impartial and effective investigation into allegations of torture and ill-treatment of Ms. Mahsa (Jina/Zhina) Amini [1], a young Kurdish woman who died in custody of the “morality police” in Tehran on 16 September 2022.

Our organisations demand an international investigation into the use of deadly force by Iranian security forces, which, to this date, have resulted in the killing of at least 37 people, the injury of many others, and the arrest and detention of hundreds of predominantly peaceful protesters who demanded justice and accountability for Ms. Amini’s death. [2]

Iranian authorities must end gender-based persecution

Our organisations call on the international community to press the Iranian authorities to comply with their obligations under international human rights law, respecting women’s rights including, but not limited to, by:
- repealing Articles 638 and 639 of the Islamic Penal Code;
- decriminalising the non-wearing of the headscarf and accepting women’s right to choose their own clothing;
- dismantling the morality police and ending gender-based persecution and discrimination as a whole, in law as enshrined in the Constitution, the Civil Code and other laws, and in practice.

Ms. Amini’s death in police custody on 16 September 2022 has sparked widespread protests across the country. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in major cities, such as Tehran, Mashhad, Isfahan, Tabriz, and many other localities. Women have been at the forefront of the protests in lots of instances. Police and plain-clothes agents have brutally cracked down on protesters using live bullets, pellets, batons, tear gas, and water cannons to suppress the demonstrations.

Peaceful protesters are facing lethal use of violence

LDDHI has recorded the deaths of at least 37 protesters, including at least three children, in various cities, [3] while the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported death of an unnamed police assistant in the city of Shiraz on 21 September. Furthermore, sufficient information is not yet available to corroborate reports of deaths of other people.

Hundreds of protesters have been injured, some of whom have lost sight in one or both eyes as a result of metal pellets fired at them at close range. Hundreds of others have been arrested in various cities, including in the western Kurdistan Province and in raids on student dormitories in Tehran, which witnessed extensive student protests in several universities.

Several media managers have been summoned and warned about their coverage of the demonstrations. Some journalists have been threatened with arrest if they reported the protests. Several journalists have been detained, including Ms. Niloofar Hamedi of the prestigious daily newspaper Shargh, Massoud and Khosro Kurdpour, directors of the Mokrian News Agency in Kurdistan, and two of their journalists, Khatibzadeh (first name not known) and Ms. Marzieh Talaei. Social media networks and messaging apps, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, have been suspended and others are accessible only by Virtual private networks (VPNs).

While demonstrations began with initial demands of justice for Ms. Amini and the abolition of the morality police’s patrols, many protesters have voiced wide ranging demands for freedom and democracy.

Background: The repression of women in Iran

Mahsa (Jina/Zhina) Amini, 22, from the city of Saqqez, Kurdistan Province, was arrested by the morality police on 13 September for not wearing a proper hijab while she was visiting her relatives in Tehran together with her family. Police claimed that she suffered a heart attack in the Vozara Street Detention Centre in Tehran, fell into a coma, and died three days later at hospital. While the hospital issued a statement declaring that she was brain dead on arrival, the authorities released a partial footage of CCTV recordings (without indicating time and date of the recording), which showed blurred images of a woman collapsing on a chair. Ms. Amini’s family demanded the full CCTV footage to be released and categorically denied claims made by the officials that she had been suffering from a heart condition or epilepsy.

It has been reported that police agents violently beat Ms. Amini on the head with a baton, and banged her head against the vehicle she was forced into, before being taken to the detention centre. Meanwhile, a Persian-language TV station based in London published CT scans of Ms. Amini’s brain, which showed apparent signs of fracture on the right side of the skull as a result of a direct blow.

The so-called morality police are responsible for subjecting women and girls to arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other ill-treatment for not complying with the country’s highly discriminatory veil laws. Article 638 of the Islamic Penal Code stipulates it is a crime for women to appear in public without an Islamic hijab. Many women have been victims of the strict enforcement of mandatory hijab over decades. One of the charges against Human Rights Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh under Article 638 in her trial in December 2018 was “appearing without the sharia-sanctioned hijab at the premises of the magistrate’s office.”

The judicial authorities also frequently use other provisions of the law to prosecute women who do not abide by mandatory hijab regulations.
In April 2019, Ms. Vida Movahed was sentenced to one year in prison for “encouraging the people to commit immorality or prostitution” (Article 639 of the Islamic Penal Code). She had taken off her headscarf and stood on an electricity distribution box to protest mandatory dress code. Several other women were also prosecuted for the same type of action.
Four women are still serving long-term prison sentences after removing their hijab in public. In 2019, four women’s rights defenders Mses. Saba Kord-Afshari, Yassman Aryani, Monireh Arabshahi, and Mojgan Keshavarz received sentences ranging from 16 to 24 years in prison on various charges including for “encouraging people to commit immorality and/or prostitution” (Article 639). They were arrested and prosecuted, because they had taken off their headscarves, given ‎flowers to other women in underground trains in Tehran, and spoken about the right to not wear the hijab.

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