A total of 12 people have been killed in Iran during the biggest anti-regime protests since 2019 following the death of a young woman being held in police custody, authorities in the Islamic republic have confirmed.
At least five of the dead are members of the security forces, officials said, as authorities step up their crackdown on the protests.
Abolhasan Kabiri, deputy governor of Qazvin province, had earlier said a member of the Revolutionary Guards had been shot dead, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
The unrest was triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was arrested by the morality police last week on allegations that she had violated the Islamic dress code.
Police said she was not beaten in detention but her family and many Iranians do not believe the official account. Iranian authorities have urged families to stop their children joining the demonstrations, the biggest since fuel price protests in 2019, when more than 300 died.
On Thursday, the US Treasury department imposed sanctions on the morality police, saying it was responsible for Amini’s death, along with seven senior officials of Iran’s security forces.
Amnesty International had put the number of dead at eight on Wednesday evening and suggested that at least four of them were shot by security forces “at close range”. The human rights group added that birdshot and other metal pellets, tear gas, water cannon and batons had been used to disperse protesters.
Iranian authorities have cut access to Instagram and WhatsApp in an effort to prevent co-ordination between protesters and to stop them posting videos and pictures on social media.
Mohammad Khansari, head of the Information Technology Organization of Iran, said on Thursday that the decision to restrict access to certain platforms was made by “concerned authorities”, but added it would be temporary.
Men and women in towns and cities across the country have poured on to the streets since Monday, chanting anti-regime slogans such as “death to the dictator” and “we don’t want [to wear] scarves”.
Protesters have also been videoed facing up to riot police. Some accounts in local media suggest people have thrown stones and set fire to police vehicles and state buildings.
In a video taken in the north-eastern city of Mashhad, two young women without scarves are shown passing a burning police vehicle chanting “hail to freedom”. In the north-western city of Tabriz a young girl, accompanied by men, was filmed shouting at security forces and throwing stones at them.
Tasnim news agency reported that health ministry official Pedram Pakayeen said on Thursday that more than 60 ambulances had been destroyed, adding: “This can only be done by rioters.”
Iranian security officials have said that some protesters are backed by opposition groups overseas and that they are using demonstrators to fan the crisis.
The deputy governor of the northern province of Mazandaran said that protesters damaged or set fire to 41 government buildings on Wednesday evening. “Rioters ... are guided from overseas and exploit people’s pure emotions [for Amini],” he said.
In an interview with BBC Persian, Ms Amini’s father, Amjad Amini, disputed the view of Iranian authorities that his daughter suffered heart failure when she was in custody. “My son was with her [when she was arrested]. Some witnesses told my son she was beaten in the van and in the police station,” he said. “My son begged them not to take her, but he was beaten too, his clothes were ripped off. I asked them to show me the body-cameras of the security officers, they told me the cameras were out of battery.”
— Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington
— Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022