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Women protest in Iran over death of woman arrested by morality police

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Demonstrations have spread to dozens of cities in Iran.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Crowds are taking to the streets in response to the death of a young woman who was in police custody.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

MARTINEZ: Protesters have chanted death to the dictator, and I will kill the one who killed my sister. And that's in reference to 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. She was detained by Iran's so-called morality police for an alleged violation of the rules requiring women to cover their hair. Her family rejects the police explanation that she fell ill after being arrested, saying she was beaten.

INSKEEP: NPR's Peter Kenyon has been following this story from Istanbul. Hey there, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do these protests look like?

KENYON: Well, they're looking bigger and more widespread since they started last weekend. Crowds have taken to the streets in dozens of cities all across the country. Some women have taken off or burned their hijabs rather than wearing them. Police have aggressively dispersed protesters - tear gas, batons and by some accounts, with live fire. I spoke with analyst Sanam Vakil at London-based Chatham House think tank. And she told me the authorities' usual playbook includes cutting off access to the internet, which they've done, and increasing aggression by security forces. But to this point, it's not working. Here's how she put it.

SANAM VAKIL: The protests have spread to at least 40 cities that we know of. And there are a number of further tragic deaths and hundreds of detentions that we don't even know about yet. I expect it's going to get worse in the coming days.

KENYON: And she thinks it may get worse when Ebrahim Raisi returns from the U.N. General Assembly to Iran. Vakil also says Iranians have in recent years looked for any opportunity to express their frustration on personal freedoms, the economy, the environment. So it's not just about the hijab. There's a widespread feeling that public grievances are just being ignored.

INSKEEP: Peter, you just mentioned that Ebrahim Raisi, the president, is in New York, addressed the United Nations. Is he speaking about this at all?

KENYON: Well, he didn't directly address the protests in his address. But he did have a message that was, essentially, anything like unrest must be seen as an internal Iranian matter. Neither the U.S. nor anyone else has any business getting involved. He also accused the West of having a double standard on human rights violations. Analyst Sanam Vakil says that's a familiar argument from Tehran. Here's what she said.

VAKIL: Indeed, the Iranian regime likes to play the double standard card and plays it quite well. Of course, it's very hard for them to fan the flames of double standards when they have an appalling record of human rights, complete disregard for the rule of law and due process and continue to repress their own citizens.

KENYON: Now, President Biden also talked about the protests. At the U.N., he said the United States stands with those he called the brave women of Iran, who are demonstrating to secure basic rights.

INSKEEP: Doesn't sound like these protests are near the end.

KENYON: It's hard to see a path to quick de-escalation right now. We should note that a couple of years ago, when those widespread protests erupted over the economy, Iranian security forces crushed them, killing hundreds and leaving thousands wounded.

INSKEEP: NPR's Peter Kenyon. Thanks so much.

KENYON: Thanks, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEREMIAH FRAITES' "ARRIVAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.