Rage against the regime: how Iran erupted after the death of Mahsa Amini

Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, died in police custody after being arrested by police under Iran’s harsh hijab laws. In the following days large protests erupted across Iran.

Iranian newspapers’ headlines after Mahsa Amini’s death. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty

Friday 16 September

The first protest, in front of Kasra hospital, began shortly after news of Mahsa Amini’s death was published. Amini had been taken to the hospital from the police detention centre after her arrest.

Based on videos and witness accounts, dozens of people gathered in front of the hospital and the surrounding streets, some chanting “Death to the dictator”, while the authorities closed the roads leading to the hospital. Other protesters gathered around the city’s Arjantin Square near the hospital, chanting slogans such as “I swear by Mahsa’s blood, Iran will be free” and “Khamenei is a murderer, his government is invalid”.

Journalists at the hospital reported that several arrests were made throughout the evening. In Arjantin Square a young girl with a shaved head, her hair in a plastic bag, shouted in protest at Amini’s death.

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Over the next few days, the movement grew, with other women also cutting their hair – something that is considered forbidden by some Islamic authorities – and posting the videos on social media.

In parts of Tehran, chants could be heard from the rooftops and from inside homes: “Death to Khamenei” and “Death to the dictator”.

Amini’s body was taken to her home town in Saqqez for burial at night.

Saturday 17 September

In Saqqez, thousands of people attended Amini’s funeral. Women took off their headscarves en masse in the presence of police officers and chanted against mandatory hijabs. Men and women marched to the governor’s building in Saqqez after Amini’s burial. Many protesters were beaten, and at least 13 were hit by gunfire.

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Sunday 18 September

The protests spread to Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province. Police attacked protesters with batons and teargas. Gunshots were reported in some parts of the city.

In Tehran University, dozens of students marched in the university grounds chanting “Women, life, freedom”.

In remarkable scenes, protesters, men as well as women, chanted slogans denouncing the violent suppression of women.

Monday 19 September – Tehran

In Tehran, male and female students staged rallies at seven universities.

Slogans such as “We do not want the Islamic Republic” and “We don’t want forced hijab” could be heard around central Tehran.

Security forces used teargas, batons and water cannon to disperse the crowds. Some pictures and reports indicate that shots were fired at the protesters, and several were injured.

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In videos taken at the protest, dozens of women took off their headscarves, waving them above their heads and chanting “death to the dictator”. Photos show protesters forming a human chain and standing in front of dozens of armed police officers.

Photos on social media showed protesters setting fire to at least one police patrol van. Reports from Tehran indicate that dozens of protesters were detained.

A witness in Tehran told the Guardian that by 8pm, the crowd around Vali Asr Square numbered 3,000 to 4,000 people, both men and women.

“The crowd that initially gathered on Abdullah Zadeh Street near the Hejab intersection was about 50 to 100 people. The IRGC [Revolutionary Guards], wearing black uniforms and riding motorcycles, kept attacking the crowd and dispersed them, however, the people gathered in another street a few minutes later.

A video showed an elderly woman in Rasht removing her headscarf and chanting: ‘Death to Khamenei’

“At the same time, the number of protesters had increased in the streets of 16 Azar and Italia, it was difficult for the security forces to deal with the people. I even saw twice with my eyes that people pushed the security forces back by throwing stones and forcing them to flee.”

The witness also told the Guardian that protesters delayed the advance and attacks by security services by setting fire to waste bins and using cars to block streets.

From 9.30pm, security reinforcements arrived and fired on the protesters. A witness says police officers wearing green uniforms were attacking people with batons, and the Revolutionary Guards were shooting at people with teargas and bullets.

A witness said many women in the rally had scarves around their necks and were not wearing hijab. Some women started to form a small circle, waving their headscarves in the air. According to the witness, police on motorcycles attacked the circle of women, firing teargas canisters in an attempt to get them to disperse but the women continued to protest.

Protesters use burning dumpsters as a barricade to block the police at a demonstration in Tehran three days after Amini’s death. Photograph: Handout

A girl took off her scarf on Keshavarz Boulevard, and stood on top of a concrete platform holding the scarf in her hand in an act of defiance and protest that echoed an image of Vida Movahedi, a young Iranian woman who was photographed waving her hijab on a pole above the crowd during demonstrations in 2017 before being arrested.

Witnesses say the girl was pulled down and beaten by the police but she continued to refuse to cover her hair. The extent of her injuries or whether she was later arrested is unknown.

Yalda Meiri, a press photographer, posted on Instagram that she had been arrested at a protest on Hejab Street and was being taken in a van to an unknown location with dozens of others.

Relatives of those detained at the protests say many were transferred to the base of the Basij pro-government militia in Hor Square but there is no official information about the numbers arrested or where or how they are being detained.

A commemoration of Mahsa Amini was held in the women’s wing of Evin prison in Tehran. Aliyeh Motallebzadeh, a photographer and women’s rights activist imprisoned there, reported that about 40 women political prisoners gathered in the courtyard to stage a protest.

Monday 19 September – Kurdistan

Civil society groups in Iran’s Kurdistan province supported the call of political parties in the region for a general strike.

Shops were closed across the provinces of Kurdistan West Azerbaijan and Kermanshah, especially in cities, including Sanandaj, Mahabad, Ashnoye, Saqqez, Marivan, Bukan, Piranshahr, Kamyaran, Ravansar and Paveh.

Kaveh Kermanshahi, a Berlin-based director of the Kurdistan Human Rights Network, said that at least three Kurdish citizens were killed after security forces opened fire on crowds. Mohsen Mohammadi, Faridun Mahmoudi and Reza Lotfi were killed during protests in the cities of Diwandara, Saqqez and Dehgolan in Kurdistan province. Their families have reportedly been threatened by the security forces for talking to the media and human rights organisations, and for holding a public funeral.

Kermanshahi said more than 85 people were wounded in the protests on 19 September in cities across Kurdistan, and at least 215 people were arrested. Among those wounded and arrested are several children under the age of 18, including a 10-year-old girl who was shot and seriously wounded by government forces in Bukan.

Based on reliable reports received by the Kurdistan Human Rights Network, Kermanshahi said, some protesters who were wounded in beatings and gunfire from the security forces have been detained without treatment and have not been transferred to hospital.

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The security forces have also threatened to arrest Kurdish activists if they take part in protests and strikes. At least five female activists have been detained in Sanandaj and two civil activists in Marivan. Mobile phone signals and the internet were cut off in a number of cities in Kurdistan.

According to Front Line Defenders, an international human rights organisation, at least eight women’s rights and civil rights activists have been arrested in Kurdistan province. They confirmed the arrest of four women – Baran Sae’di, Mahrou Hedayati, Bahareh Zangiband and Azadeh Jama’ati.

Also arrested are the environmental campaigner Farank Rafie, and a civil rights activist called Lotfollah Ahmadi in Sanandaj; as well as two civil rights defenders, Ribvar Kamranipour and Amjad Sae’di, in Marivan, Kurdistan province.

19 September – Other cities

Protests reached the city of Rasht, in the province of Gilan, where demonstrators chanted “Death to Khamenei”. In one of the videos, protesters forced the security forces to retreat. According to police sources, 22 people were arrested there.

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Videos on social media showed people in the streets of Mashhad shouting “We are all Mahsa, fight to fight” and “The mullah must get lost”.

Tuesday 20 September

As well as anger about the death of Amini and demands for the abolition of the mandatory hijab, protesters also shouted against Ali Khamenei, Iran’s “supreme leader”, as well as against repression and human rights violations, and the country’s political establishment. “Death to the Islamic Republic” and “Death to the dictator” are heard at most gatherings.

Fatemeh Karim, of Kurdistan Human Rights Network, confirmed that three more protesters died after being shot by anti-riot forces. Farjad Darvishi, a 23-year-old, was killed in the Vali Asr neighbourhood of Urmia, and 16-year-old Zakariya Khiyal in Piranshahr, both in West Azerbaijan province.

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Students gathered in some universities in Tehran, Karaj, Yazd and Tabriz. Pictures of the protest at Shahid Beheshti University of Tehran on social media show female students setting fire to their veils. Footage from Kharazmi University in Karaj shows students stamping on a picture of Ali Khamenei.

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Demonstrations spread to many cities and towns, including Kermanshah, Zanjan, Bandar Abbas, Qazvin, Rafsanjan, Kerman, Sari, Urmia, Hamadan, Kish and Shiraz. In Qom, a particularly conservative city, protesters were on the streets, and some women took off their headscarves and twirled them in the air.

Protests also flared in Tehran market, the scene of demonstrations that proved a turning point in the 1979 revolution.

Wednesday 21 September

According to Kurdistan Human Rights Network, a man named Fouad Qadimi, who was shot by security forces on 19 September in Diwandara, died from his wounds at Kowsar hospital in Sanandaj, Kurdistan province.

Security officers arrested Zina Modares Gurji, a women’s rights activist in Sanandaj. Nilufar Hamedi, a reporter for Al Sharq newspaper, was arrested in Tehran. She was one of the first journalists to break the story about Mehsa Amini after she was transferred to Kasri hospital.

Fatemeh Sepehri, a civil activist critical of Ali Khamenei, and Mansoure Mousavi, a sociologist and women’s activist, are among tthose arrested in Mashhad.

Iran Human Rights (IHR), based in Norway, said that during the clashes on the night of 21 September, about 60 men and six women were arrested and transferred to Amol prison.

Most of the protesters are young but older people, especially women, have also taken to the streets. Images of elderly women chanting slogans or defending protesters against the attacks of security agents have been published many times in recent days, including a video of an elderly woman in the city of Rasht removing her headscarf and chanting: “Death to Khamenei.”

In Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan province, a young woman on top of a car removes her headscarf and cuts her hair as protesters chant: “Death to the dictator.” Women also burned their veils in the city of Qaemshahr, Mazandaran province.

Iranian demonstrators on the streets of Tehran as protests over the killing of Mahsa Amini continued to spread. Photograph: AFP/Getty

Protesters charged at riot police and forced them to retreat in the city of Amol, also in Mazandaran province. This has happened in other cities as well, with several videos showing protesters forcing police to retreat by throwing stones or running at them. Others show protesters setting police cars on fire. In Azadi Square, Nowshahr, Mazandaran province, protesters attacked three riot police vehicles.

Thursday 22 September

IHR reported the death of at least 31 protesters between 16 and 22 September. The organisation confirms all deaths by contacting relatives, eyewitnesses or medical staff in hospital, according to Mahmood Amiri-Moghaddam, director of IHR. He also said they had received more names of those killed, but were awaiting confirmation.

According to news published by university organisations, dozens of students have been arrested in Tehran and other cities. Bardia Shakuri Fard from Tehran University, Mohammad Arab from Babol Noshirvani University of Technology and Mehrdad Arandan from Allameh Tabataba’i University are among those arrested.

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More than 530 people have been arrested in Kurdish regions of Iran, including Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Ilam and West Azerbaijan provinces, during the past week, Fatemeh Karim of Kurdistan Human Rights Network told the Guardian.

According to reports from different parts of Iran, the violence has intensified as protests have spread. There have been reports of live ammunition and Kalashnikov assault rifles being used in some cities. Arrests have become widespread, while internet speed and access to some social media has been cut or limited.

Friday 23 September

A new wave of arrests targeting civil and political activists, journalists and students has begun, initially in Kurdistan but spreading across the country.

Reports of deaths and injuries are increasing but there are still no official figures and verification of the size of the protests and the numbers detained is proving difficult due to internet blackouts and the targeting of civil society.

Other footage posted on social media show families sheltering protesters attempting to flee from the police. In one, police are seen breaking down the door of the house where protesters are hiding.

A witness from Tehran said: “Last night, numerous women and men in the Vanak neighbourhood went to the roof of buildings and chanted: ‘Death to the dictator’ and ‘woman, life, freedom.’

“During these demonstrations, I saw the IRGC [Revolutionary Guards] forces suddenly attack a car,” the witness said. “The driver was a woman; she sounded her horn in support of people protesting in the street. [The police] violently threw that woman out of the car and arrested her.

“I have witnessed the police arrest people in incredibly violent ways. Our people are fighting against the military forces with only their bare hands. Yet they shoot people, stand in front of hospitals to check who is transferred, and then arrest them.”