DUBAI (Reuters) -Protests ignited by the death of a young woman in police custody continued across Iran on Sunday in defiance of a crackdown by the authorities, as a human rights group said at least 185 people, including children, had been killed in demonstrations.
Anti-government protests that began on Sept. 17 at the funeral of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in her Kurdish town of Saqez, have turned into the biggest challenge to Iran’s clerical leaders in years, with protesters calling for the downfall of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“At least 185 people, including at least 19 children, have been killed in the nationwide protests across Iran. The highest number of killings occurred in Sistan and Baluchistan province with half the recorded number,” the Norway-based Iran Human Rights said on Saturday.
Authorities have described the protests as a plot by Iran’s foes, including the United States. They have accused armed dissidents amongst others of violence that has reportedly left at least 20 members of the security forces dead.
Videos shared on social media showed protests in dozens of cities across Iran early on Sunday with hundreds of high school girls and university students participating despite the use of tear gas, clubs, and in many cases live ammunition by the security forces, rights groups said.
The Iranian authorities have denied that live bullets have been used.
A video posted on Twitter by the widely-followed activist 1500tasvir showed security forces armed with clubs attacking students at a high school in Tehran.
In another video, a man shouted “don’t hit my wife, she is pregnant,” while trying to protect her from riot police in the city of Rafsanjan on Saturday.
A video shared by Twitter account Mamlekate, which has more than 150,000 followers, showed security forces chasing dozens of school girls in the city of Bandar Abbas. Social media posts said shops were closed in several cities after activists called for a mass strike.
Reuters could not verify the videos and posts. Details of casualties have trickled out slowly, partly because of internet restrictions imposed by the authorities.
Meanwhile, the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted deputy interior minister warning of harsh sentences for those it referred to as rioters.
Amini was arrested in Tehran on Sept. 13 for wearing “inappropriate attire”. She died three days later at a Tehran hospital.
A state coroner’s report on Saturday said Amini had died from pre-existing medical conditions. Her father has held the police responsible for her death with the family lawyer saying “respectable doctors” believe she was beaten while in custody.
While the United States and Canada have already placed sanctions on Iranian authorities, the European Union was considering imposing asset freezes and travel bans on Iranian officials.
“Those who beat up (Iranian) women and girls on the street, who abduct, arbitrarily imprison and condemn to death people who want nothing other than to live free – they stand on the wrong side of history,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday.