Iran sends police to end Mahsa Amini protests as reports say seven killed

Iran has sent police on to the streets in a scramble to end protests that have spread to at least 15 cities, as rights groups and local media reported up to seven people had been killed in crackdowns.

There were reports of internet blackouts in parts of the country while Instagram accounts with Iranian IP addresses were also blocked in an apparent attempt to quell growing anger.

The telecommunications minister, Issa Zarepour, was quoted by the official Irna news agency as saying there had been some “temporary restrictions in some places and at some hours”.

State media reported that police used teargas and made arrests to disperse crowds of up to 1,000 people on Tuesday evening. Irna claimed demonstrators had hurled stones at security forces and set fire to police vehicles.

Protests have engulfed parts of the country over the past five days after the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the morality police for not wearing the hijab appropriately.

Irna said a “police assistant” died of injuries on Tuesday in the southern city of Shiraz. And a Kurdish human rights group, Hengaw, said two more people had been killed by police, raising the claimed death toll since Amini’s death to six.

An additional 450 people had been wounded and 500 arrested, the group said, figures that could not be independently verified.

Demonstrations have rocked the country. Social media has shown women being cornered by helmeted men on motorbikes and beaten.

Many women had taken off their headscarves in protest against the morality police, who have been enforcing the hijab in line with a decree issued by the new leadership of the president, Ebrahim Raisi.

Speaking at the UN general assembly in New York on Wednesday, Raisi did not mention the demonstrations or Amini by name but criticised western countries for their reactions to “an incident under investigation in Iran”.

Iranian officials say they are conducting an inquiry into the cause of Amini’s death. However, the protesters have little faith in an internal investigation and want the morality police abolished.

On Wednesday, the country’s supreme leader gave a televised speech in which he did not mention the protests but warned how young people should not “fall for western powers’ deception”. Tehran repeatedly blames its internal issues on meddling by its international enemies.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 83, who is subject of persistent reports of failing health, showed no clear sign of physical frailty in a near hour-long address.

In New York on Tuesday, Raisi met the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and told him the continued UN nuclear inspectorate inquiry into the origins of unexplained nuclear particles in three Iranian sites was a serious obstacle to a revival of a nuclear agreement. Iran wants the investigation halted.

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said he did not expect a breakthrough in the round of meetings with Iranian and US officials in New York. No meeting is planned between Raisi and the US president, Joe Biden.

In his UN speech on Wednesday, his first as president, there was little content to suggest Raisi was prepared to make further compromises to reach a deal with Washington, saying it was necessary for Iran to be provided with fresh guarantees that sanctions will not be reimposed by the US.

Biden has given that assurance so long as Iran remains in compliance with restrictions on its nuclear programme, sanctions will not be reimposed, but he cannot bind future US leaders.

Raisi said the US “maximum pressure policy” had suffered an embarrassing defeat and Iran would, if necessary, find its way without any renewed nuclear agreement.

He pointed out that Khamenei had issued a fatwa insisting Iran had no plan to create a nuclear bomb, and that its programme was purely for civil and peaceful purposes.

A sharia-based fatwa was more valuable than any agreement, he said. “The Islamic Republic of Iran does not seek to build or obtain nuclear weapons and these weapons have no place in our doctrine.”

Just as he rose to speak, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, walked out. In a CBS interview, Raisi claimed further investigations were required to determine if the Holocaust happened.

In 35-minute speech, one of the longest delivered to the general assembly this year, he accused “Zionist oppressors” of forming the biggest prison in the world in Gaza and using savagery over seven decades to expand illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

Biden, speaking after Raisi, repeated: “America is ready to return to the JCPOA [joint comprehensive plan of action] unilaterally, if Iran fulfils its obligations. America has said clearly that we will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. I still believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this goal.”

Raisi’s visit to New York is complicated by efforts to serve a writ on him in a civil action accusing him of torture in a case brought by three former political prisoners including Kylie Moore-Gilbert, the British-Australian academic held in Iran.

No writ can be served on him at the UN headquarters but efforts can be made outside the building.

The case, filed with the south district court of New York, accuses Raisi of overseeing torture and maltreatment of three prisoners.

The three plaintiffs are Moore-Gilbert, Mehdi Hajati, a former Shiraz city councillor, and the Belgian-Iranian academic and former hostage Hamid Babaei.

In a message to a press conference in New York, Moore-Gilbert said she had spent two years and three months deprived of her liberty entirely unjustly on no factual basis.

During her detention, she said, she “had suffered physical and psychological torture that remains with me to this day … in total, I spent 12 months in solitary confinement. I was routinely subjected to cruel, degrading and humiliating treatment.”

Moore-Gilbert said she frequently wrote to Raisi, as head of the judiciary, outlining the denial of her basic human rights but never received a reply.