The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Iranian woman dies after detention by ‘morality police,’ stirring outrage

Iran has been increasingly enforcing its conservative dress code for women in recent months. (Vahid Salemi/AP)
3 min

An Iranian woman who slipped into a coma earlier this week after she was detained by so-called “morality police” died Friday, state media reported, in a case that stirred outrage over the government’s increasingly strict enforcement of ultraconservative dress codes for women.

The woman, Mahsa Amini, 22, was detained on Tuesday in Tehran, the capital, by members of the guidance patrol, a special unit that enforces Iran’s obligatory Islamic dress codes, Amini’s mother, Mojhgan Amini, said in an interview with Radio Farda on Thursday. Within hours of the arrest, “we hear that she is in a coma,” her mother said.

“They killed my angel,” she said in an interview with BBC Persian on Friday.

The police said that Amini suffered a heart attack after being taken to a police “education and advice” center, state media said. Her family insisted that she had no prior health problems, and activists asserted that she may have been beaten by the police. On Friday, as scattered protests erupted in Tehran over the death, the interior ministry ordered an investigation, which it said was ordered by Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.

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The headscarf and other conservative dress, known as hijab, have been compulsory for women since Iran’s 1979 revolution. Raisi, a hard line cleric who assumed office last year, has called for strict enforcement of the dress codes. The guidance patrols have become increasingly assertive of late, with their distinctive green-striped vans featured in a series of videos that have gone viral online and provoked anger — including one from last month that appeared to show a detained woman being thrown from a speeding van.

Another recent video showed a mother stepping in front of one of the vans while her daughter was inside, trying to stop it from moving by placing her hands on the hood.

The government crackdown sparked a protest movement over the summer by Iranian women who photographed themselves without a headscarf and posted the pictures on social media.

Amini, a Kurdish woman from western Iran, had been visiting Tehran with her brother when she was arrested, her mother said. It was not clear what about her attire had attracted police scrutiny, but she was detained as soon as she exited a Tehran metro station.

“My son begs them not to,” the mother said. “He says, ‘we are strangers in Tehran, we don’t know anyone, don’t take her,’” the mother said. “But they beat up my son and take my daughter.”

A video carried by Iranian media outlets Friday purported to show Amini in the police station. In the video, which was edited, she can be seen in a large hall filled with women, sitting for a moment, then approaching another woman who appears to be an authority figure and gestures toward Amini’s clothes, touching her headscarf before walking away. Amini can then be seen putting her hands to her face, shortly before collapsing onto a chair.

Pictures of Amini in the hospital, intubated, circulated widely on social media, provoking anguished reactions from activists, celebrities and reformist political figures. In one post, Asghar Farhadi, a prominent Iranian filmmaker, wrote: “We are pretending to be asleep at the face of this never-ending oppression. We are all partners in this crime.”

Following her death, security forces clashed with people in front of Tehran’s Kasra Hospital, in the north of the capital, where Amini was treated, according to videos posted on social media. Some videos also showed protesters nearby at Argentina Square, chanting against Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“Khamenei is a killer; his government is invalid,” they chanted.

Babak Dehghanpisheh in Phoenix contributed to this report.