The United Nations has demanded an independent investigation into the death of an Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of Iran’s morality police, but authorities have denied allegations that she was beaten or mistreated.
“Mahsa Amini’s tragic death and allegations of torture and ill-treatment must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by an independent competent authority,” Nada al-Nashif, the acting UN high commissioner for human rights, said on Tuesday.
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Amini’s death has sparked widespread protests across the country, including in the capital, Tehran, where demonstrators chanted slogans against the government and clashed with police. They are demanding an investigation into the death of the 22-year-old woman and the dismantling of the morality police – known as Gasht-e Ershad or Islamic guidance patrol.
The UN Human Rights Office said Iran’s morality police have expanded their patrols in recent months, targeting women for not properly wearing hijab, a scarf worn by some Muslim women.
The European Union spokesperson for external affairs said the incident leading to Amini’s death was “unacceptable” and that “perpetrators of this killing must be held accountable”.
Iran:🇪🇺's thoughts are w/family & friends of & Mahsa Amini.What happened is unacceptable,perpetrators of this killing must be held accountable.
🇮🇷 authorities must ensure respect for rights of citizens & prevent mistreatment of detained https://t.co/awPgtCpjhU #محسا_امینی
— Peter Stano (@ExtSpoxEU) September 19, 2022
Amini was detained on September 13 and taken to a “guidance centre” where she collapsed and died three days later. Iranian police have denied mistreating Amini and say she died of a heart attack. Authorities say they are investigating the incident.
Protests erupted in the country after her funeral and police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators on Saturday and Sunday. Several protesters have been arrested, according to local media. Al Jazeera could not independently verify the report.
A news website affiliated with state TV said 22 people were arrested at a protest in the northern city of Rasht, the first official confirmation of arrests related to the protests.
Iran’s government did not immediately comment on the statement but has previously criticised the work of UN investigators examining rights issues in the country.
‘Should be alive’
The United States also condemned her death and called on Iran to end its “systemic persecution” of women.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken took to social media and said Amini “should be alive today”.
“Instead, the United States and the Iranian people mourn her. We call on the Iranian government to end its systemic persecution of women and to allow peaceful protest,” he tweeted.
Mahsa Amini should be alive today. Instead, the United States and the Iranian people mourn her. We call on the Iranian government to end its systemic persecution of women and to allow peaceful protest. #مهسا_امینی
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) September 20, 2022
The comments from Blinken come amid tense talks between the US and Iran to restore the 2015 nuclear deal that former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from in 2018.
Iranian police released closed-circuit video footage last week purportedly showing the moment Amini collapsed. But her family says she had no history of heart trouble.
Amjad Amini, her father, told an Iranian news website that witnesses saw her being shoved into a police car.
“I asked for access to [videos] from cameras inside the car as well as courtyard of the police station, but they gave no answer,” he said. He also accused the police of not transferring her to the hospital promptly, saying she could have been resuscitated.
Amini’s father said when he reached the hospital, he was not allowed to see the body, but he managed to get a glimpse of bruising on her foot.
Authorities then pressured him to bury her at night, apparently to reduce the likelihood of protests. But Amini’s father said the family convinced them to let them bury her at 8am instead. Amini, who was Kurdish, was buried on Saturday in her home city of Saqez in western Iran.
Local actors, footballers, politicians and other celebrities have expressed their feelings and outrage during interviews with local media or social media, while several internationally renowned figures, including JK Rowling, have also commented.