Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Protesters across Iran continued to clash violently with security forces early Friday after the death of a young woman in police custody, as Iranian state television suggested the death toll in the unrest could reach 26, without providing details.
While the scale of protests in a dozen Iranian cities remains unclear, the movement represents the largest unrest since 2019, when rights groups said hundreds were killed in a violent crackdown . Iran has also disrupted internet access with the outside world, according to internet traffic monitor Netblocks, tightening restrictions on popular platforms used to hold gatherings like Instagram and WhatsApp.
A state television presenter said Thursday night that 26 protesters and police had been killed since protests erupted last Saturday following the funeral of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, without specifying how authorities arrived at the figure. He said official statistics would be released later, but in past times of unrest, the Iranian government has not offered an official death toll.
The unrest killed at least 11 people according to an Associated Press tally, based on statements from state and semi-official media. More recently, Qazvin Deputy Governor Abolhasan Kabiri said a citizen and a paramilitary officer were killed in the unrest that rocked two towns in the northwestern province.
The unfolding crisis in Iran began as an outpouring following the death of Amini, a young woman from a Kurdish town in the northwest who was arrested by the country’s vice squad in Tehran last week for allegedly allegedly violated its strictly enforced dress code.
His death drew strong condemnation from Western countries and the United Nations, and touched a national nerve. Videos show Amini wearing a long black blanket and a state-mandated Islamic headscarf at the time of his arrest.
Police say she died of a heart attack and was not abused. But his family has cast doubt on that account, as have the many Iranians who are venting their pent-up anger at social and political repression in the streets. Authorities alleged that unnamed foreign countries and opposition groups were trying to foment unrest.
Videos on social media show protesters in Tehran torching a police car and confronting officers at point-blank range. Elsewhere in the capital, videos show gunshots ringing out as protesters run from riot police, shouting: “They are shooting people! Oh my God, they kill people!
In the northwestern town of Neyshabur, protesters cheered on an overturned police car. Footage from Tehran and Mashhad shows women waving their mandatory hijab head coverings in the air like flags while chanting “Freedom!”
The chants were scathing, with some calling for the downfall of ruling clerics. The demonstrators shout: “Death to the dictator!” and “The mullahs must disappear!”
Amnesty International, a London-based watchdog, accused security forces of beating protesters with batons and firing metal pellets at close range. Videos show police and paramilitaries using live fire, tear gas and water cannons to break up protests.
Iran has recently been grappling with waves of protests, mainly over a long-running economic crisis exacerbated by US sanctions related to its nuclear program. In November 2019, the country saw the deadliest violence since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, as protests erupted against a state-controlled gasoline price hike.
Economic hardship remains a major source of anger as the value of Iran’s currency declines and unemployment remains high.
The Biden administration and its European allies are working to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Iran limited its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, but talks have stalled for months .