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Iran detains journalists and celebrities as death toll from "ruthless" crackdown on protests climbs

Protests against Iranian government spread
Protests against Iranian government spread 05:53

Iran stepped up pressure on celebrities and journalists Thursday over the wave of women-led protests sparked by outrage over the death of Mahsa Amini, after she was arrested by the Islamic republic's morality police. The Iranian security forces' crackdown on protesters and those who support them has left 83 people dead, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights organization.

 Filmmakers, athletes, musicians and actors have backed the demonstrations, and many saw it as a signal when the national soccer team remained in their black tracksuits when the anthems were played before a match in Vienna against Senegal.

"We will take action against the celebrities who have fanned the flames of the riots," Tehran provincial governor Mohsen Mansouri said, according to the ISNA news agency.

Iran's judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei similarly charged that "those who became famous thanks to support from the system have joined the enemy when times are difficult."

Cousin of Mahsa Amini, Iranian woman whose death sparked deadly protests, speaks out 03:17

The warnings came after almost two weeks of protests across Iran and a deadly crackdown that, human rights group Amnesty International says, has been marked by "ruthless violence by security forces."

Public anger flared after Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, died on September 16, three days after her arrest for allegedly breaching Iran's strict rules for women on wearing hijab headscarves and modest clothing.

"Woman, Life, Freedom!" protesters have chanted ever since, in Iran's biggest demonstrations in almost three years, in which women have defiantly burned their headscarves and cut their hair. Parallel protests have been held for days in major cities around the world, often in front of Iranian embassies and consulates. 

Iran protests continue as crackdown escalates 07:31

President Ebrahim Raisi warned that, despite "grief and sorrow" over Amini's death, public security "is the red line of the Islamic republic of Iran and no one is allowed to break the law and cause chaos."

Iran on Thursday arrested the reporter Elahe Mohammadi, who had covered Amini's funeral, her lawyer said, the latest of a growing number of journalists to be detained. Police have also arrested journalist Niloufar Hamedi of the reformist Shargh daily, who went to the hospital where Amini lay in a coma and helped expose the case to the world.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday that three additional journalists — Farshid Ghorbanpour, Aria Jaffari and Mobin Balouch — had been arrested, bringing the total behind bars to 28.

Intelligence officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps arrested 50 members of "an organized network" behind the "riots" in the holy Shiite city of Qom, the Guards said, according to Fars news agency.

Some Iranian celebrities were among those reportedly being swept up in the arrests, in addition to a musician and singer named Shervin Hajipour who was little known before the unrest broke out. He posted a video of himself singing a song composed entirely of messages from protest tweets, which garnered tens of millions of views on Instagram before he was reportedly arrested and forced to take it off the platform. 

Other Instagram users reposted Hajipour's song in support.

A former professional soccer player was also detained over his support for the protests, state media reported.

"Former Persepolis FC player Hossein Maahini was arrested by the order of the judicial authorities for supporting and encouraging riots on his social media pages," state news agency IRNA said.

Iran Protest as Global Demos Highlight Nations Economic And Social Pain
A protester wears a t-shirt featuring a character holding cut hair during a demonstration over the death of Mahsa Amini, outside the Iranian consulate building in Istanbul, Turkey, September 29, 2022.  Erhan Demirtas/Bloomberg/Getty

On Thursday, Tehran provincial governor Mohsen Mansouri warned celebrities against coming out in support of the protests.

"We will take action against the celebrities who have fanned the flames of the riots," ISNA news agency quoted him as saying.

London-based Amnesty International criticized Iran's "widespread patterns of unlawful use of force and ruthless violence by security forces."

It said this included the use of live ammunition and metal pellets, heavy beatings and sexual violence against women, all "under the cover of deliberate ongoing internet and mobile disruptions."

"Dozens of people, including children, have been killed so far and hundreds injured," said the group's secretary general Agnes Callamard.

At least 75 people have been killed during Iran unrest following death of Mahsa Amini 02:10

Iran's Fars news agency has said that "around 60" people had been killed, while the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights has reported a death toll of at least 76 people.

Iran has blamed outside forces for the protests and Wednesday launched cross-border missile and drone strikes that killed 13 people in Iraq's Kurdistan region, accusing armed groups based there of fueling the unrest.

The U.S. on Thursday said one of its citizens had been killed in the Iranian strikes, separately announcing the fresh enforcement of sanctions on Tehran's oil sales.

Iran's economy has been decimated for years by punishing sanctions imposed by the West over its contested nuclear program.

On Thursday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said she was "doing everything" she could to push for European Union sanctions against those "beating women to death and shooting demonstrators in the name of religion."

The Iranian government has sought to play down the crisis.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said he told Western diplomats at recent U.N. meetings that the protests were "not a big deal" for the stability of the clerical state.

"There is not going to be regime change in Iran," he told National Public Radio in New York on Wednesday. "Don't play to the emotions of the Iranian people."

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