U.N. human rights officials have condemned the violent crackdown by Iranian security forces against protesters angered by the death of a young woman accused of failing to comply with Iran's strict dress code.
Protests across 15 Iranian provinces erupted following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody. She was arrested September 13 by the so-called morality police for allegedly not wearing the hijab properly.
The U.N. Human Rights Office says it is difficult to get a precise number of protesters who have been killed, wounded and arrested by Iran's security force. This is because of restrictions on telecommunications. State media put the number of deaths at 41.
However, U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said nongovernmental organizations monitoring the situation have reported higher numbers of deaths. She said one credible source reports 76 people have been killed, including women and children. She noted that hundreds of others have been injured across at least 11 provinces.
"We are extremely concerned by comments by some leaders vilifying protesters, and by the apparent unnecessary and disproportionate use of force against protesters," Shamdasani said. "Firearms must never be used simply to disperse an assembly. In the context of assemblies, they should only be used in case of an imminent threat to life or of serious injury."
Hundreds of people reportedly have been arrested, including human rights defenders, lawyers, civil society activists and at least 18 journalists.
Shamdasani said women have been protesting the wearing of the hijab for four decades, but the alleged police beating of Amini and her subsequent death apparently was the last straw. Shamdasani said this time around, there has been an outpouring of support from all walks of life and from many provinces across Iran.
"Women human rights defenders who have protested the use of the hijab or who have taken steps to remove it, they have for many years been targeted, intimidated, harassed, arrested, beaten up. There are several pending cases of women who have been detained and charged in relation to the hijab," she said.
Iranian police have denied that Amini was beaten while in custody.
Shamdasani said the lack of an adequate response to the death of Amini and the outpouring of anger on the streets, as well as the shutdown of communications, has had a serious impact on Iranian society.
The U.N. Human Rights Office is urging Iranian authorities to address the situation. Shamdasani is pushing for an investigation and respect for freedom of assembly and of expression. She said the government should stop vilifying the protesters and instead listen to them.