Tehran, Iran – An Iranian police chief categorically denied allegations a woman who was arrested for “improper hijab” and died in custody was beaten as public anger over the 22-year-old’s death continues.
Addressing a news conference on Monday, Tehran’s police chief, Brigadier-General Hossein Rahimi, said Mahsa Amini was detained for wearing tight trousers and wearing her headscarf improperly.
He added that claims she was beaten or in any way mistreated are “completely false”.
“Cowardly accusations have been levelled against the police, which we will defer to the day of judgement, but is it possible to shut down the society’s security?” he said.
Amini had travelled to Tehran with her family last week, from her hometown of Saqqez in Kurdistan province, when she was detained by the so-called morality police – known as Gasht-e Ershad or Islamic guidance patrol. She died on Friday, several days after suffering a stroke and cardiac arrest, according to Iranian authorities.
Footage aired by state television last week showed Amini in a “guidance centre” where women are taken to be educated on what the Iranian authorities deem acceptable “modest clothing”, which includes a head covering known as a hijab and a long coat and has been mandatory since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.
She gets up to talk to a female “expert” at the centre and moments later holds her head in her hands and collapses while speaking.
A slightly extended clip shown by Rahimi on Monday showed how paramedics moved Amini to a less-crowded hallway and tried to revive her before taking her to a hospital – which the police chief said took less than five minutes.
‘Like my own daughter’
Quoting an unnamed source, the semi-official Fars news website earlier said Amini suffered from epilepsy and diabetes and had a brain tumour operated on when she was five.
Her family denied the claims, saying she was perfectly healthy and suffered from no pre-existing conditions.
No footage or potential witness accounts have been released from the time of Amini’s detention. Rahimi said the officers who made the arrest were not equipped with body cameras and there were no recording devices in the police van that carried her. But he said Amini was healthy and even made jokes when she was in the van.
The medical examiner’s office has said it is conducting tests on samples taken from Amini’s body following her death and will announce the results to the judiciary after an investigation is complete.
In addition to the judiciary and parliament, President Ebrahim Raisi has ordered a probe. He also called Amini’s family on Sunday and promised results, saying “your daughter is like my own daughter”.
The young woman’s death has sparked a wave of anger on social media and a series of demonstrations.
Social media inside and outside Iran has been awash with posts mentioning her name passing the three million mark on Twitter while becoming top trending in several countries. Some women have filmed themselves cutting their hair while others took off their hijab in videos.
Politicians, actors, footballers, and celebrities have expressed their feelings on social media or during interviews with local media, while several internationally renowned figures, including JK Rowling, have commented.
Hundreds participated in Amini’s funeral in the city of Saqqez in Kurdistan province and then demonstrated in front of the governor’s office. There were also protests in the city of Sanandaj, also in Kurdistan, which were dispersed by tear gas.
Dozens of students protested in support of Amini at the University of Tehran on Sunday, and student groups called for demonstrations on Monday at several other universities.