Iran is responsible for the ‘physical violence’ that killed Mahsa Amini in 2022, UN probe finds

Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Iran is responsible for the “physical violence” that led to the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022 and sparked nationwide protests against the country’s mandatory headscarf or hijab laws and ruling theocracy, a UN fact-finding mission said on Friday.

The stark statement came in a comprehensive initial report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council by the Fact-Finding Mission on Iran.

It also found that the Islamic Republic used “unnecessary and disproportionate use of lethal force” to quell demonstrations that broke out after Amini’s death, and that Iranian security forces sexually abused prisoners.

More than 500 people were killed and more than 22,000 people were arrested during the months-long crackdown by the security services.

There was no immediate comment on the report from Iran. Iranian officials did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press about the mission’s findings.

The release of the report is unlikely to change the course of Iran’s government, which is now more firmly in the hands of hardliners after a low-turnout vote last week put them back in control of the country’s parliament.

However, it puts further international pressure on Tehran amid broader Western concerns about its advancing nuclear program, Russia’s Iranian arming of Moscow’s war against Ukraine and the continued intimidation and imprisonment of activists including Nobel laureate Narges Mohammadi.

“The protests were unprecedented because of the leadership of women and youth, their reach and longevity and, ultimately, the violent response of the state,” the report said.

Amini, 22, died in a hospital on September 16, 2022 following her arrest by the country’s vice squad for allegedly not wearing her hijab as authorities ordered. She was taken to Iran’s Vozara detention center to undergo a “re-education lesson” but collapsed after 26 minutes and was taken to a hospital 30 minutes later, the report said.

Iran has denied responsibility for her death or that she was beaten. At times, authorities have pointed to a medical condition Amini had since childhood after surgery. The UN report dismissed that as a cause of her death.

The panel “established the existence of evidence of trauma to Ms. Amini’s body, inflicted while she was in the custody of the vice squad,” the report said.

“Based on the evidence and patterns of violence by the vice squad in enforcing the mandatory hijab for women, the Mission is satisfied that Ms. Amini was subjected to physical violence that led to her death,” the report said.

However, the report stops short of blaming anyone specifically for harming Amini.

The protests that followed Amini’s death first began with the chant “Women, life, freedom.” However, the demonstrators’ chanting and shouting soon grew into open calls for uprising against Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The UN report found that Iranian security forces used shotguns, assault rifles and submachine guns against protesters “in situations where there was no imminent threat of death or serious injury” to them, “committing unlawful and extrajudicial killings.”

A pattern of deliberately shooting protesters in the eyes was also found.

“The mission notes the deterrent and chilling effect of such injuries, as they permanently marked the victims and essentially ‘branded’ them as protesters,” the report said.

Some of the detainees suffered sexual violence, including rape, the threat of rape, forced nudity, groping and electrocution of their genitals, according to the report.

“Security forces capitalized on the social and cultural stigma associated with sexual and gender-based violence to instill fear and humiliate and punish women, men and children,” the report said.

The panel also acknowledged that it was continuing to investigate the 2023 death of teenager Armita Gaavand, who died after falling on the Tehran subway in what activists say was an attack because she was not wearing a hijab.

Geravand’s parents appeared in a state media video at the time and said a blood pressure problem, a fall or perhaps both contributed to their daughter’s death.

“In actions reminiscent of Ms. Amini’s case, state authorities took measures to cover up the circumstances leading to Ms. Garavand’s death,” the report said.

A suspected wave of poisonings targeting Iranian schoolgirls was also reported, without drawing any conclusions about what happened in the incidents.