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Iranian Woman Dies after Being Beaten by Morality Police Over ‘Improper Hijab’

An Iranian man carries a national flag during a ceremony to mark national Chastity and Hijab day at a conference center in Tehran, Iran, in 2010. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

An Iranian woman died today in the custody of Iran’s morality police after witnesses say she was beaten for wearing an “improper hijab.” The death of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old from the country’s Kurdistan province, is already sparking protests in Iran.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC Persian that the police detained her on Tuesday in Tehran, and that they beat her as she rode in a police van. Amini’s family told the outlet that she had been moved to a hospital shortly after her arrest, before learning today that she has died.

BBC Persian also reports the following, about growing outrage within Iran about the apparent murder:

Many Iranians, including pro-government individuals, are expressing their outrage on social media platforms regarding the very existence of the morality police, also known as Guidance Patrols, and are using hashtags that translate as Murder Patrols.

Videos have emerged on social media appearing to show officers detaining women, dragging them on the ground, and forcefully whisking them away.

Many Iranians blame the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, directly. An old speech of his is being reshared on social media in which he justifies the role of the morality police and insists that under Islamic rule, women must be forced to observe the Islamic dress code.

Compounding the potential for unrest unleashed by Amini’s death, Khamenei fell “gravely ill” last week, the New York Times reported today.

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi is already maneuvering to portray Amini’s killing as the work of a few rogue officers, with state media outlets reporting that he ordered a probe into her death. The police are denying that they beat her, per Reuters:

“Based on detailed investigations, since her transfer to the vehicle and also at the location (station), there was no physical encounter with her,” a police statement said, rejecting allegations on social media that Amini was likely beaten.

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage carried by state TV appeared to show a woman identified as Amini falling over after getting up from her seat to speak to an official at a police station. Reuters could not authenticate the video.

Police earlier said Amini had suffered a heart attack after being taken to the station to be “convinced and educated, state television said, denying allegations she was beaten. Her relatives have denied she suffered any heart condition.

The Biden administration’s first response to the incident came from Robert Malley, President Biden’s Iran envoy. In a tweet this afternoon, Malley called her death “appalling,” and called on the Iranian regime to end its violence against women.

Meanwhile, Sharon Kleinbaum, a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, called on Biden to “unreservedly condemn Iran for its violent and systematic attacks on women like Zhina (Mahsa) Amini,” during his U.S. address next week: