DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A top United Nations official on Tuesday called for an independent investigation into the death of an Iranian woman held by the country’s morality police, as authorities acknowledged making arrests at protests over the incident.
The woman’s death has sparked protests across the country, including in the capital, Tehran, where protesters chanted against the government and clashed with police.
The United States, which is trying to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, also condemned her death and called on the Islamic Republic to end its “systemic persecution” of women.
The UN human rights office said Iran’s morality police have expanded their patrols in recent months, targeting women for improperly wearing the Islamic headscarf, known as the hijab. He said verified videos show women being slapped in the face, beaten with batons and thrown into police vans for wearing the hijab too loosely.
A similar patrol car arrested 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last Tuesday, taking her to a police station where she collapsed. He died three days later. Iranian police denied abusing Amini and said she died of a heart attack. Authorities say they are investigating the incident.
“The tragic death of Mahsa Amini and the allegations of torture and ill-treatment must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by an independent competent authority,” said Nada Al-Nashif, the acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Iran’s government did not immediately comment on the statement, but has previously criticized the work of UN investigators looking into rights issues in the country.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Amini “should be alive today”.
“On the contrary, the United States and the Iranian people mourn her. We call on the Iranian government to end the systemic persecution of women and allow peaceful protest,” he tweeted.
Iranian police released closed-circuit video last week purportedly showing the moment Amini collapsed. But her family says she had no history of heart problems.
Amjad Amini, her father, told an Iranian news website that witnesses saw her being pushed into a police car.
“I requested access to (video) from cameras inside the car as well as in the yard of the police station, but they did not respond,” he said. She also accused police of not taking her to hospital in time enough, saying she could have been suspended.
He said that when he arrived at the hospital he was not allowed to see the body, but he was able to get a glimpse of bruises on her leg.
The authorities then pressured him to bury her at night, apparently to reduce the chance of protests, but Amini said the family persuaded them to let them bury her at 8am.
Amini, who was Kurdish, was buried on Saturday in her hometown of Saqez in western Iran. Protests broke out there after her funeral and police used tear gas to disperse protesters on Saturday and Sunday. Several protesters were arrested.
The protests spread to Tehran and other cities on Monday. A news website linked to state television said 22 people were arrested at a demonstration in the northern city of Rast, the first official confirmation of arrests related to the protests.
State television showed footage of protests on Monday, including images of two police patrol cars with their windows smashed. It said protesters also burned two motorcycles and burned Iranian flags in Kurdish areas and Tehran.
The state broadcaster blamed the unrest on foreign countries and exiled opposition groups, accusing them of using Amini’s death as a pretext for more economic sanctions.
Iran has seen waves of protests in recent years, mostly over a long-running economic crisis exacerbated by Western sanctions linked to the country’s nuclear program. The authorities managed to quell the protests with violence.