Iran is responsible for Mahsa Amini’s death in custody, U.N. report says

Iran is responsible for the “physical violence” in detention that led to Mahsa Amini’s death in 2022 and committed crimes against humanity during its crackdown on the protests that followed, an independent U.N. fact-finding mission has said.

The mission said in a report Friday that crimes such as murder, imprisonment, torture and rape were “committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population, namely women, girls and others expressing support for human rights.”

These crimes included persecution on the grounds of gender — a crime against humanity — which intersected with discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and religion, the report said.

Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, was arrested in Tehran on Sept. 13, 2022, for allegedly wearing “improper” hijab, referring to the strict Islamic dress code that Iran enforces on women. Her death days later sparked mass protests under the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom,” which soon broadened into wider expressions of dissent against the Iranian authorities and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

In a statement published Saturday on the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s website, spokesman Nasser Kanaani rejected what he described as “the unfounded allegations in this report, which are based on false and biased information.” The mission said it “regrets the lack of meaningful cooperation by the Iranian authorities” over the investigation.

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The report, prepared for the U.N. Human Rights Council, rejected Iranian authorities’ previous claims that Amini died of a medical condition from childhood.

“Based on the evidence, alleged complications arising from Ms. Amini’s surgery in childhood can be excluded as the immediate cause of her death,” the report said, adding “the mission has reasonable grounds to believe that her death was brought about by external causes.”

The mission had “established the existence of evidence of trauma to Ms. Amini’s body, inflicted while in the custody of the morality police” and “is satisfied that Ms. Amini was subjected to physical violence that led to her death,” the report said. “On that basis, the State bears responsibility for her unlawful death.”

Instead of investigating the circumstances of her death, authorities “took active steps to obfuscate the truth” and used judicial harassment and intimidation to silence her family members and prevent them from seeking legal action, according to the report. The family’s lawyer, as well as several journalists who first reported on Amini’s death, were arrested and later imprisoned, it added.

The fact-finding mission used official Iranian statements and reports, in-depth interviews with victims and eyewitnesses, medical imaging, verified photos, and video and satellite imagery, the report said.

The Washington Post has not independently reviewed the source materials used by the mission.

Iran hasn’t issued comprehensive statistics about the protests, but the report said a “credible figure” for the death toll during the protests was 551 people, including up to 49 women and 68 children, while tens of thousands of others are believed to have been arrested.

“The mission acknowledges that security forces were killed and injured and found instances of violence by protesters,” the mission said, noting that the Iranian government portrayed the protesters as rioters, but “the large majority of protests were peaceful.”

The highest number of deaths were recorded in regions with minority populations, including in Sistan and Baluchistan province, where 104 people were killed in a single day on Sept. 30, 2022, during protests that took place after Friday prayers, the report said.

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The report also found that Iranian security forces carried out unlawful and extrajudicial killings in a “pattern of the use of lethal force by the security forces against protesters.”

Most deaths involved the use of firearms, it said. Some protesters and bystanders were fully or partially blinded by security forces, the mission found, adding that it is “satisfied” that the injuries, which “permanently marked the victims, essentially ‘branding’ them as protesters,” were intended to serve as a deterrent to others.

Detainees — including children — were also “subjected to severe physical, psychological and sexual torture,” including beatings, burnings, the use of electric shocks and rape, the report said. It added that it found several cases where individuals died in custody as a result of torture.

Judges presiding over cases involving protesters relied on confessions obtained under torture and “showed manifest bias,” the report said. Nine protesters have been executed, it said, “while at least another 6 men reportedly remained under sentence of death, with some at risk of imminent execution at the time of writing.”

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Shaheen Sardar Ali, a member of the fact-finding mission, said in a statement: “We urge the Iranian authorities to halt all executions and immediately and unconditionally release all persons arbitrarily arrested and detained in the context of the protests, and to end the repression of protesters, their families and supporters of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement.”

Abram Paley, the U.S. deputy special envoy for Iran, wrote on social media that the “whole world is taking notice” of the report, adding: “It is imperative that the Fact Finding Mission continue its important work.”

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