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Young woman's death after arrest by Iran's "morality police" sparks deadly protests, rare criticism from officials

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Tehran — Three people have been killed during protests in Iran's Kurdistan province over the death of a young woman after she was arrested by "morality police," the region's governor said Tuesday.  

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest has not only triggered deadly protests, but also rare criticism by top officials. Public anger has grown since authorities announced Amini's death on Friday, following her arrest by the police unit responsible for enforcing Iran's strict dress code for women, including the wearing of the headscarf in public.

Iran Protest
A photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran shows a police motorcycle burning during a protest over the death of a young woman who had been detained for violating the country's conservative dress code, in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sept. 19, 2022. AP

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative paid a visit to Amini's family at their home in the northern Kurdistan province, Tasnim news agency said Tuesday.

"I assured the family... that all institutions will take action to defend the violated rights of Miss Amini and none of their rights will be ignored," Abdolreza Pourzahbi was quoted as saying.

Germany Iran Protests
Exiled Iranians of the National Council of Resistance of Iran gather in front of the embassy of Iran in Berlin, Germany, September 20, 2022 after the death of an Iranian woman held by the country's "morality police." The opposition group is also known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and widely referred to in the West as the MEK. Michael Sohn/AP

Amid growing controversy over the conduct of the morality police, known formally as the Gasht-e Ershad or "Guidance Patrol," parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said Tuesday that the police unit's conduct should be investigated.

"In order to prevent repetition of such cases, the processes and the method of implementation in guidance patrols... should be investigated," he said, according to state news agency IRNA.

The state-affiliated Organization for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, set up to encourage good behavior and prohibit immoral activities, said the police unit should not arrest people for breaking dress regulations.

"The view of this issue should be changed," the influential organization said in a statement, stressing that it opposed "the arrest and trial of ordinary people" for clothing infringements.

"The criminalization of those not wearing a headscarf and the arrest, filing of cases and the prosecution of people which will only cause social tensions... should be amended in law," it added.

Iran Protest
In this Sept. 19, 2022 photo, taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, women run away from anti-riot police during a protest of the death of a young woman who had been detained for violating the country's conservative dress code, in downtown Tehran, Iran. AP

The death of Amini has caused international consternation, including from the United Nations.

The United States criticized her death and the way it said security forces handled the ensuing protests.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Tuesday rejected the criticism and said a probe had been ordered into the "tragic death" of Amini, who he said, quoting President Ebrahim Raisi, "was just like our own daughters."

Following protests in the capital Tehran and a number of other provinces, Iranian lawmakers have also raised their voices.

Jalal Rashidi Koochi, a member of parliament, told the ISNA news agency that the police unit was a "mistake," as it only resulted in "loss and damage" for Iran.

Another lawmaker, Moeenoddin Saeedi, said the unit "should be removed," ILNA news agency reported.

Clerics have also spoken out.

Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat Zanjani, a senior religious figure whose guidance many follow, on Saturday criticized the events leading up to Amini's death.

"The set of behaviors and events that caused this unfortunate and regrettable incident are illegal, irrational and illegitimate," the cleric said in a statement.

On the streets, protesters showed their anger.

On Sunday, police made arrests and fired tear gas in Amini's home province of Kurdistan, where some 500 people had protested, some smashing car windows and torching rubbish bins, reports said.

On Monday, several hundred protesters in Tehran, including some women who took off their headscarves, were dispersed by "police using batons and tear gas," according to the Fars news agency.

On Tuesday, Kurdistan provincial governor Ismail Zarei Koosha said three people had been killed during the protests in the province, Fars reported, blaming the deaths on "a plot by the enemy."

Tehran governor Mohsen Mansouri on Tuesday said the protests in the capital were "fully organized with the agenda to create unrest," in a post on Twitter.

"Burning the flag, pouring fuel on the roads, throwing stones, attacking the police, setting fire to motorcycles and garbage cans, destroying public property... is not the work of ordinary people," he said.

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