Iranian police accused of killing protesters after woman arrested over hijab law dies

Protesters have spilled onto the streets of Tehran over Masha Amini's death. Credit: AP

Anger is mounting over the death of an Iranian woman held by the country's morality police for allegedly flouting strict rules on wearing the hijab.

Protesters have taken to the streets after Mahsa Amini, 22, died in hospital on Friday, three days after she was arrested in Tehran.

Ms Amini had travelled to the Iranian capital from the city of Saqez, in the country's western Kurdistan province with her family to visit relatives.

It is understood she fell into a coma after collapsing at a police station, but Iranian authorities have denied mistreating her.

They insist she suffered from "sudden heart failure" while waiting with other women to be "educated" over Iran's headscarf rules.

Iranian exiles protest outside Iran's embassy in Berlin. Credit: AP

But family members and witnesses to the ethnic Kurd's arrest alleged that she was beaten while in police custody.

Protests have since erupted across the country, including in Iran's Kurdish region, where a human rights group claims five people were shot dead by riot police on Monday.

The claim was made by the Hengaw Organization, a Norway-registered independent watchdog monitoring human rights abuses in the region, but the figure is yet to be verified.

On Tuesday a top United Nations official demanded an independent investigation into the death of Ms Amini.

Witnesses and family members accuse police of beating Ms Amini. Credit: AP

The United States, which is trying to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, also condemned her death and called on the Islamic Republic to end its “systemic persecution” of women.

The UN Human Rights Office said Iran's morality police have expanded their patrols in recent months, targeting women for not properly wearing the hijab.

It said verified videos show women being slapped in the face, struck with batons and thrown into police vans for wearing the Islamic headscarf too loosely. “Mahsa Amini’s tragic death and allegations of torture and ill-treatment must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by an independent competent authority,” said Nada Al-Nashif, the acting UN high commissioner for human rights.

Vehicles have been set ablaze in downtown Tehran as anger over Ms Amini's death grows. Credit: AP

Iran's government did not immediately comment on the statement but has previously criticised the work of UN investigators examining rights issues in the country.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that Ms Amini “should be alive today", adding: “Instead, the United States and the Iranian people mourn her.

"We call on the Iranian government to end its systemic persecution of women and to allow peaceful protest." Iranian police released CCTV footage last week purportedly showing the moment Amini collapsed. But her family says she had no history of heart trouble.

Amjad Amini, her father, told an Iranian news website that witnesses saw her being shoved into a police car. “I asked for access to (videos) from cameras inside the car as well as courtyard of the police station, but they gave no answer,” he said.

Mr Amini also accused the police of not transferring her to the hospital promptly enough, saying she could have been resuscitated. He said that when he arrived at the hospital he was not allowed to view the body, but managed to get a glimpse of bruising on her foot.

Authorities then pressured him to bury her at night, apparently to reduce the likelihood of protests, but Mr Amini said the family convinced them to let them bury her at 8am instead.

The UN has expressed concerns over Iran's response to protesters. Credit: AP

Ms Amini was buried Saturday in her home city of Saqez. Protests erupted there after her funeral and police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators on Saturday and Sunday. The protests spread to Tehran and other cities on Monday, with a news website affiliated with state TV reporting that 22 people were arrested in the northern city of Rasht.

This was the first official confirmation of arrests related to the protests. State TV showed footage of protests on Monday, including images of two police cars with their windows smashed.

It said the protesters torched two motorbikes as well, and that they burned Iranian flags in Kurdish areas and Tehran. The state-run broadcaster blamed the unrest on foreign countries and exiled opposition groups, accusing them of using Ms Amini's death as a pretext for more economic sanctions. Iran has seen waves of protests in recent years, mainly over a long-running economic crisis exacerbated by Western sanctions linked to the country's nuclear program.