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Death Of Iranian Woman After Arrest Over Hijab Sparks Protests, Strong International Reaction


A few hours after her arrest, Mahsa Amini's family was informed that she had been hospitalized.

The death of a 22-year-old Iranian woman three days after she was taken into police custody for allegedly breaking the country's hijab rules has sparked strong reactions both domestically and internationally.

Doctors on September 16 declared Mahsa Amini dead after she showed no brain activity since falling into a coma after being admitted to the hospital, sources told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda.

Eyewitnesses to her arrest told journalists that Amini appeared to have been beaten inside the morality police van while being taken to the detention center.

The report of Amini's death sparked protests in Tehran. Videos posted on social media showed protesters chanting "Death to the dictator" -- a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- as drivers honked their car horns in a Tehran square near the hospital where Amini was treated.

The White House on September 16 called Amini's death "unforgivable."

"We are deeply concerned by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was reportedly beaten in custody by Iran's morality police. Her death is unforgivable. We will continue to hold Iranian officials accountable for such human right abuses," President Joe Biden's national-security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said on Twitter.

Robert Malley, the U.S. envoy for Iran who is involved in efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, said those responsible for her death must be held accountable.

"Mahsa Amini's death after injuries sustained in custody for an 'improper' hijab is appalling," he said on Twitter. "Iran must end its violence against women for exercising their fundamental rights."

Amnesty International also reacted, calling for an investigation into the “suspicious” death.

"The so-called 'morality police' in Tehran arbitrarily arrested her three days before her death while enforcing the country's abusive, degrading and discriminatory forced veiling laws. All agents and officials responsible must face justice," the human rights group added.

Amini had traveled from the western Iranian province of Kurdistan to Tehran to meet relatives when she was arrested on September 13.

A few hours after her arrest, her family was informed that Amini had been hospitalized.

Mojgan Amini, Mahsa's mother, told RFE/RL in an interview shortly before the news of her daughter's death that her family has filed a complaint with the Tehran police.

"My daughter was in perfect health before her arrest," she said.

The media center of the Tehran police department has denied eyewitness claims that Amini was beaten, saying she was transferred to one of the police departments in Tehran for "justification and education" about the hijab when she "suddenly suffered a heart problem."

Amini's death also provoked widespread reaction in social networks.

American actress Leah Remini asked her followers to join her in sharing Mahsa's name and story.

"The fact that she was arrested for the improper wearing of the hijab makes it even more horrifying," Remini said in a tweet.

Some Iranian lawmakers have also criticized the behavior of police over the incident, while President Ebrahim Raisi has asked the interior minister to investigate the case.

In a statement on September 16, Tehran police insisted "there was no physical encounter" between officers and Amini.

Police said Amini had suffered a heart attack after being taken to the station to be "educated.”

Closed-circuit television footage carried by state TV appeared to show a woman identified as Amini falling over after getting up from her seat to speak to an official at a police station. RFE/RL could not verify the video.

Asghar Farhadi, the well-known film director, wrote on Instagram that in the face of the "endless cruelty" of the authorities, "we have put ourselves to sleep."

The notorious Guidance Patrols, or morality police, have become increasingly active and violent. Videos have emerged on social media appearing to show officers detaining women, forcing them into vans, and whisking them away.

The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of 9 after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Many Iranian women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda