Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards called on the Islamic Republic's judiciary on Thursday to prosecute “those who spread false news and rumours” about a young woman whose death in police custody has triggered nationwide protests.
Protesters in Tehran and other Iranian cities torched police stations and vehicles earlier on Thursday as public outrage over the death showed no signs of easing, with reports of the nation's security forces coming under attack.
Mahsa Amini, 22, died last week after being arrested in Tehran for wearing “unsuitable attire”. She fell into a coma while in detention. The authorities have said they would launch an investigation into the cause of her death.
In a statement, the Guards expressed sympathy with the family and relatives of Amini.
“We have requested the judiciary to identify those who spread false news and rumours on social media as well as on the street and who endanger the psychological safety of society and to deal with them decisively,” the Guards, who have been cracking down on protests in the past, said.
US places sanctions on Iran's morality police
The United States put sanctions on Iran's morality police on Thursday, accusing it of abuse and violence against Iranian women and holding it responsible for the death of Mahsa Amini.
The US Treasury accused the morality police of violating the rights of peaceful protesters and said it had put sanctions on seven senior Iranian military and security officials, including the chief of the Iranian army's ground forces.
“Mahsa Amini was a courageous woman whose death in Morality Police custody was yet another act of brutality by the Iranian regime’s security forces against its own people,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
“We condemn this unconscionable act in the strongest terms and call on the Iranian government to end its violence against women and its ongoing violent crackdown on free expression and assembly,” she added.
Pro-government protests are planned for Friday, Iranian media informed.
“The will of the Iranian people is this: do not spare the criminals,” read an editorial in the influential hardline Kayhan newspaper.
The protests over Amini's death are the biggest the Islamic Republic has seen since 2019. Most have been concentrated in Iran's Kurdish-populated northwest but have been spreading to the capital and at least 50 cities and towns nationwide, with police having to use force to disperse protesters.
A new disruption to mobile internet has been registered in Iran, internet monitoring group Netblocks wrote on Twitter, in a possible sign that the authorities may fear that the protests will intensify.
A group of United Nations experts, including Javaid Rehman, special rapporteur on human rights in Iran and Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, have demanded accountability for Amini's death.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened by the death of Ms Amini. She is another victim of Iran’s sustained repression and systematic discrimination against women and the imposition of discriminatory dress codes that deprive women of bodily autonomy and the freedoms of opinion, expression and belief,” the experts said in a statement.
A member of an Iranian pro-government paramilitary organisation, the Basij, was stabbed to death in the northeastern city of Mashhad on Wednesday, two semi-official Iranian news agencies reported on Thursday.
The Tasnim and Fars news agencies reports of the stabbing had appeared on Telegram since both their websites were not functioning on Thursday. There was no official confirmation of the death.
Tasnim also said another member of the Basij was killed on Wednesday in the city of Qazvin as a result of a gunshot wound inflicted by “rioters and gangs”.
Nour news, a media outlet affiliated with a top security body, shared a video of an army officer confirming the death of a soldier during the unrest, bringing the total reported number of security force members killed in the unrest up to five.
An official from Mazandaran said that 76 members of the security forces were injured in the province during the unrest while the police commander of Kurdistan announced that more than 100 security forces were wounded.
In the northeast, protesters shouted “We will die, we will die but we'll get Iran back” near a police station which was set on fire, a video posted on Twitter account ‘1500tasvir’ showed. The account centres on protests in Iran and has around 100,000 followers.
Another police station was set ablaze in Tehran as the unrest spread from Kurdistan, the home province of Amini and where she was buried on Saturday.
Amini's death has reignited anger over issues including restrictions on personal freedoms in Iran - including strict dress codes for women - and also an economy reeling from sanctions.
Iran's clerical rulers fear a revival of the 2019 protests that erupted over gasoline price rises, the bloodiest in the Islamic Republic's history. Reuters reported that 1,500 were killed.
Reports by Kurdish rights group Hengaw said the death toll in Kurdish areas had climbed to 15 and the number of injured rose to 733. Iranian officials have denied that security forces killed protesters, suggesting they may have been shot by armed dissidents.
With no sign of the protests easing, authorities have restricted access to the internet, according to accounts from Hengaw, by residents, and the internet shutdown observatory NetBlocks.
Women have played a prominent role in the protests, waving and burning their veils, with some even cutting their hair in public.
In northern Iran, crowds armed with batons and rocks attacked two members of the security forces on a motorbike to a cheering crowd.