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Woman Dies in Custody of Iran’s ‘Morality Police’

Unexplained Death Underscores Need to Address Violence Against Iranian Women

Photo of Mahsa Amini. © 2022 ISNA

She is “gone … gone,” the mother of Mahsa Amini told a reporter. Her 22-year-old daughter, from Sanandaj in western Iran, was arrested by Tehran’s “morality police” on September 13. She was transferred to a hospital that same day in a coma, and died on September 16.

The Iranian news outlet Etemad reported that the morality police arrested Mahsa, who was with her brother, in front of the Haghani metro station in Tehran for what authorities described as “improper” hijab. They told her brother she was being taken to the morality police headquarters for an “educational and orientation class.” Two hours later, Mahsa’s brother discovered that his sister had been taken to a hospital. According to the media report, he said that while he was waiting for his sister outside the police headquarters, he and others heard screaming. Multiple women who left the building said, “they killed someone in there.”

On September 15, Iran’s Police Information Center claimed that Mahsa had suffered a cardiac seizure while in custody and was immediately transferred to the hospital. On September 16, state TV published a video apparently showing Mahsa entering the “orientation class,” going to talk to someone who appears to be an officer, and suddenly falling. The police said they will provide additional information. A number of former and current Iranian officials, including members of the parliament and the president, have called on authorities to clarify and investigate the incident.

Several recent incidents of police using unlawful force against women for not complying with Iran’s compulsory hijab laws have drawn widespread criticism. In July, police arrested a woman who had been harassed and filmed for noncompliance. She was reportedly beaten in custody and taken to the hospital for internal bleeding, before being forced to apologize on state TV.

A woman dying after being arrested because of how she was dressed is evidence of outrageous depravity. Conducting a transparent investigation, holding those responsible for Mahsa’s death appropriately accountable, and providing reparations to her family are absolutely necessary. But the Iranian authorities should also promptly abolish the compulsory hijab law and remove or reform other laws that deprive women of their autonomy and rights. Only then will there be progress in eliminating the discrimination, violence, and death that half of Iranian society endures from a repressive and unaccountable state.

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