Iranian security forces have reportedly arrested one of the country’s most prominent civil society activists and a journalist who played a key role in exposing the case of Mahsa Amini, whose death has prompted a week of deadly nationwide protests.
Amini was pronounced dead on 16 September, three days after being arrested by Tehran’s morality police.
Her family and protesters say she died from injuries sustained in a beating by police. Iranian authorities say an initial coroner’s investigation showed she died from heart failure or a stroke.
Activists say at least 36 civilians have been killed in a police crackdown since people started taking to the streets last week.
Majid Tavakoli, an activist who has been imprisoned repeatedly in Iran in recent years, including after the disputed election in 2009, was arrested overnight at his home, his brother Mohsen wrote on Twitter.
Another prominent activist still based in Iran, Hossein Ronaghi, was giving an interview to Iran International when security agents came to his home, the London-based channel said.
A video published by the channel shows Ronaghi looking anxious but insisting the interview carry on.
Iran International said the activist, who campaigns for freedom of expression and contributes to the Washington Post, managed to escape arrest by slipping out via his building’s car park and later issued a video message from an undisclosed location.
Meanwhile, Nilufar Hamedi, a Tehran journalist who went to the hospital where Amini lay in a coma and helped expose the case to the world, has been arrested, the Shargh daily newspaper, for which she works, wrote on Telegram.
The photojournalist Yalda Moaiery was also arrested while covering protests in Tehran this week, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Thursday.
“Iranian authorities must immediately release all journalists arrested because of their coverage of Mahsa Amini’s death and the protests that have followed,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour.
Activists had accused Iranian authorities of being in the throes of a crackdown even before the protests began, with two of the country’s most acclaimed filmmakers, Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, being arrested.
Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, told a news conference on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in New York on Thursday that Amini’s death “must be steadfastly investigated”, while criticizing what he claimed were western “double standards” on human rights.
“Our utmost concern is the safeguarding of the rights of every citizen,” Raisi said. “If her death de ella was due to negligence, it will definitely be investigated, and I promise to follow up on the issue regardless of whether the international forums take a stand or not.”
Raisi, a hardliner who used to be in charge of the judiciary, said Iran would not tolerate “acts of chaos”, referring to the six nights of protests. Raisi sought to turn the tables on the country he was visiting by asking about police shootings in the US. “Did all these deaths get investigated?” he said.
The Iranian judiciary has ordered the courts to take a tough line with protesters, claiming the demonstrators were being led by foreign agents and stirred by anti-Iranian social media – a familiar accusation leveled by the regime when dissent breaks out.
The scope of Iran’s unrest, the worst in several years, remains unclear, though it has undoubtedly grown in the days since Amini’s death. Security and paramilitary forces have been deployed to quell protests in more than 12 cities.
On Thursday, protesters torched police stations and vehicles in several cities, and Iran shut off the internet in parts of Tehran and Kurdistan province, and blocked access to platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp. On Friday, the Iranian army said it would “confront the enemies” to ensure security – the toughest warning yet to demonstrators.
Amini was arrested for allegedly wearing a hijab in an “improper” way. As part of the protest action, Iranian women have taken to the streets and the internet to burn their headscarves and cut their hair.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism