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Iranian Woman's Death After Morals Police Arrest Sparks Protests

A photo purporting to show Mahsa Amini on a ventilator has been circulating on social media.
A photo purporting to show Mahsa Amini on a ventilator has been circulating on social media.

A young Iranian woman has died after falling into a coma following her detention by morality police enforcing Iran's strict hijab rules, sparking protests by Iranians on social media.

In the past few months, Iranian rights activists have urged women to publicly remove their veils, a gesture that would risk their arrest for defying the Islamic dress code as the country's hardline rulers crack down harder on "immoral behavior."

Videos posted on social media have shown cases of what appeared to be heavy-handed action by morality police units against women who had removed their hijab.

The interior ministry and Tehran's prosecutor launched probes into the death of Mahsa Amini following a demand by President Ebrahim Raisi, state media reported on Friday, as police said the 22-year-old was taken ill as she waited together with other detained women at a morality police station.

"Based on detailed investigations, since her transfer to the vehicle and also at the location (station), there was no physical encounter with her," a police statement said, rejecting allegations on social media that Amini was likely beaten.

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage carried by state TV appeared to show a woman identified as Amini falling over after getting up from her seat to speak to an official at a police station. Reuters could not authenticate the video.

Police earlier said Amini had suffered a heart attack after being taken to the station to be "convinced and educated," state television said, denying allegations she was beaten. Her relatives have denied she suffered any heart condition.

Among critical social media comments, outspoken reformist politician Mahmoud Sadeghi, a former lawmaker, called on Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to speak out about the case.

"What does the Supreme Leader, who rightfully denounced U.S. police over the death of George Floyd, say about the Iranian police's treatment of Mahsa Amini?" Sadeghi said on Twitter.

In 2020, Khamenei said George Floyd's killing in police custody had exposed the "true nature" of U.S. rulers.

Under Iran's sharia (Islamic) law, imposed after the 1979 revolution, women are obliged to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise their figures. Violators face public rebuke, fines or arrest.

Decades after the revolution, clerical rulers still struggle to enforce the law, with many women of all ages and backgrounds wearing tight-fitting, thigh-length coats and brightly colored scarves pushed back to expose plenty of hair.