The death of an Iranian woman in the custody of the country’s morality police must be “firmly” investigated, Iran’s president said Thursday, even as he turned the tables on the country he is visiting for the United Nations General Session, asking: What about all that? American police killed people?
“Have all these deaths been investigated?” Ibrahim Raisi said this at a press conference organized on the sidelines of the annual meeting of world leaders in New York. He lamented what he called a “double standard” in the West on human rights.
On the death of Mahsa Amini, which sparked clashes between protesters and security forces in Iran, he said the authorities were doing what they needed to do.
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“It must be investigated,” he said. “I contacted his family at the earliest opportunity and I assured them that we will continue to investigate the incident. … Protecting the rights of every citizen is our absolute preoccupation.”
At least nine people have been killed in clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters since violence erupted over the weekend, according to an investigation Thursday by The Associated Press. Iranian police say Amini, who was detained for violating the morality police’s strict dress code, died of a heart attack and was not mistreated. His family has expressed doubts about this.
The scope of Iran’s ongoing unrest, the worst in years, remains unclear as protesters in more than a dozen cities – angry over social repression and the country’s growing crisis – continue to clash with security and paramilitary forces.
Raisi, who formally addressed the General Assembly on Wednesday, noted that everywhere bad things happen to people at the hands of authorities.
“What about the deaths of Americans at the hands of US law enforcement?” He asked about his country’s rival countries, also referring to the deaths of women in Britain, which he said had not been investigated. He called for “same standards” around the world to deal with such deaths at the hands of authorities.
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Raisi’s comparison reflects a common approach by Iranian leaders, who, when faced with allegations of rights abuses, often point to Western society and its “hegemony” and claim that those countries must be similarly held accountable. Neither the US nor Britain has a morality police with authority over its citizens.
Raisi, who led the country’s judiciary before becoming president, said the investigation into Amini’s death ultimately rests there. During elections and open debates in Iran, top government figures work closely with the Supreme Leader, who has the final say on matters of state importance and appoints the head of the judiciary.
The protests have turned into an open challenge to the government over the past five days, with women removing and burning their state-mandated headscarves in the streets and Iranians calling for the fall of the Islamic Republic. These are the most serious protests since 2019, when the government started protests against hike in petrol prices.
While not directly condemning the protests, he appeared to side with the deadly response that left some protesters dead.
“What is happening, the protests are happening… of course they are normal and completely accepted,” he said. “We must distinguish between protesters and vandals. Demonstrations are good for expressing specific issues.”
He added: “There is a debate going on in Iran.”
The protests in Iran began as an emotional outpouring over Emini’s death, which has been condemned by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.
The US government has imposed sanctions on leaders of the morality police and other Iranian security agencies, saying they “regularly use violence to suppress peaceful protesters.”
Iranian police said Amini died of a heart attack and was not ill-treated, but her family cast doubt on this account. Independent experts affiliated with the United Nations said on Thursday that the report suggested that he was severely beaten by the ethics police without evidence.