Iran’s rulers have stepped up their suppression of dissent, a year after the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini sparked protests that turned into the worst political unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
How protests broke out in Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini
The protests began shortly after the September 16 death of Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, 22, who was arrested by vice police three days earlier for allegedly violating Iran’s mandatory Islamic dress code.
Amini, described as a shy person who minded her own business and stayed away from politics, was arrested as she stepped out of a train station in Tehran.
News of her death circulated on social media. Protests erupted at her funeral in her hometown of Saqez and then spread across the country, with demonstrators chanting “Woman, life, freedom” in an angry challenge to Iran’s clerical rulers.
While Amini’s family said she died from blows to the head and limbs, authorities said she died as a result of pre-existing medical problems, further fueling anger over her death.
What protesters demanded
While women and youth were often in the foreground, demonstrators targeted symbols of the Islamic Republic, burning photos of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and chanting “Death to the Dictator.”
Women, including schoolgirls, removed the headscarf and burned it, rebelling against laws requiring women to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothing.
The protests have been particularly intense in areas home to ethnic minorities who have long faced state discrimination, including the Kurds in the northwest and the Baluchis in the southeast.
Meanwhile, a growing number of women ignored the dress code. After a chess player and a climber went head-to-head without a headscarf, other prominent women defied authorities by breaking the hijab law and showing support for the protests.
Authorities have imposed travel bans and prison sentences on several public figures, from athletes to actresses.
How Iran suppressed the protests
Security forces restricted access to messaging apps and fiercely confronted leaderless protesters with tear gas, batons and, in some cases, live ammunition, even as the protests entered the new year. A paramilitary volunteer militia, the Basij, played a prominent role in the crackdown.
Rights groups said more than 500 people – including 71 minors – were killed, hundreds injured and thousands arrested. Iran carried out seven executions linked to the unrest.
Authorities have not given an official estimated death toll but say dozens of security forces were killed in the “riots.”
What changed in Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody
Backed by the Revolutionary Guards, the ruling elite appears to remain deeply entrenched in power, despite initial difficulties in suppressing the protests.
The morality police largely disappeared from the streets after Amini died in custody. But as the protests subsided, they returned to the streets and surveillance cameras were installed to identify and penalize unveiled women.
Authorities described the veil as “one of the principles of the Islamic Republic” and ordered both the private and public sectors to refuse services to women who had discarded the veil, temporarily shutting down thousands of non-compliant businesses Closed.
But with many Iranians saying the number of unveiled women continues to grow, parliament is considering longer prison terms for anyone who flouts the dress code, and tougher penalties for celebrities and companies that break the rules.
Outside Iran, Western countries have imposed new sanctions on security forces and dozens of Iranian officials over the protests, further straining already troubled ties.
How Iranian leaders will strengthen their position
Recent actions by security forces suggested that Iran’s rulers intended not to tolerate an ounce of dissent as the anniversary of Amini’s death approached.
Activists have accused authorities of a campaign to intimidate and incite fear among people linked to protests by arresting, interrogating, threatening or firing people.
Journalists, lawyers, activists, students, academics, artists, public figures and relatives of killed protesters, especially among ethnic minorities, have been targeted in recent weeks.
Iranian officials have blamed foreign enemies, particularly the US and Israel, for the unrest, raising the stakes for anyone arrested.
However, by cracking down they risk widening the divide between the clerical leadership and ordinary Iranians, who are increasingly dismayed by an economy beset by sanctions and mismanagement, a potential source of future unrest.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)