At least 76 protesters have been killed by Iranian security forces during 11 days of unrest sparked by the death of a woman in custody, activists say.
Iran Human Rights (IHR), a Norway-based organisation, accused authorities of using disproportionate force and live ammunition to suppress the dissent.
State media have put the number of dead at 41, including several security personnel, and blamed “rioters”.
Hundreds of people have also been arrested, 20 of them journalists.
“The risk of torture and ill-treatment of protesters is serious and the use of live ammunition against protesters is an international crime,” said IHR’s director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam. “The world must defend the Iranian people’s demands for their fundamental rights.”
The Iranian government has dismissed the latest protests as a foreign plot, rather than an expression of public outrage over the death of a woman detained only because her mandatory headscarf, or hijab, wasn’t to the morality police’s liking.
Pro-government marches in Tehran and other cities echoed the official line, with some marchers chanting “American mercenaries are fighting the religion.”
The government’s decision to restrict Instagram, LinkedIn and WhatsApp — three of the last Western social media apps working in the country — has limited the ability of protesters to organize and share their videos with the outside world.
The UN human rights office also said it was very concerned by the authorities’ violent response and urged them to respect the right to protest peacefully.
The anti-government demonstrations have spread to more than 80 cities and towns across Iran since the funeral of Mahsa Amini on 17 September.
The 22-year-old Kurdish woman from the north-western city of Saqez had been visiting the capital, Tehran, on 13 September when she was arrested by morality police officers for allegedly violating the strict law requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab, or headscarf.
She collapsed after being taken to a detention centre to be “educated” and died in hospital following three days in a coma.
The police said Ms Amini died after suffering sudden heart failure, but her family have dismissed that and alleged that she was beaten by officers.
The protests against the morality police and hijab law triggered by her death quickly evolved into the most serious challenge that Iran’s Shia Muslim clerical establishment has faced in years.
Videos posted on social media have shown women defiantly burning their headscarves on bonfires and cutting their hair in public to cheers and chants of “Women, life, freedom” and “Death to the dictator” – a reference to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Source – BBC