NEW YORK (AP) – The death of an Iranian woman in the custody of the country’s morality police should be “firmly” investigated, Iran’s president said Thursday, even as he turned the tables on the country he was visiting for General Assembly and asked: What about all the people killed by the American police?
“Were all these deaths investigated?” Ebrahim Raisi told a news conference held in New York on the sidelines of the annual meeting of world leaders. He lamented what he said were “double standards” in the West regarding human rights.
On the death of Mahsa Amini, which sparked clashes between protesters and security forces in Iran, he said the authorities are doing what they need to do.
“This should certainly be investigated,” he said. “I contacted her family at the earliest opportunity and assured her that we would continue to investigate the incident. … Our biggest concern is the safeguarding of the rights of each citizen”.
Clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters angered by the death have killed at least nine people since violence erupted over the weekend, according to an Associated Press tally Thursday. Iranian police said Amini, detained for violating the morality police dress code, died of a heart attack and was not mistreated. His family cast doubt on this.
The extent of the ongoing unrest in Iran, the worst in several years, is still unclear as protesters in more than a dozen cities – expressing anger at the country’s social repression and escalating crises – continue to clash with security forces and paramilitaries.
Raisi, who formally addressed the General Assembly on Wednesday, pointed out that bad things happen to people at the hands of authorities everywhere.
“What about the deaths of Americans at the hands of US police?” he asked about his country’s rival nation, also mentioning the deaths of women in Britain that he said had not been investigated. He called for “the same standard” across the world in dealing with these deaths at the hands of authorities.
Raisi’s comparison reflects a common approach of Iranian leaders, who when faced with accusations of rights violations often point to Western society and its “hegemony” and demand that these nations also be held accountable. Neither the United States nor Britain, however, have the morality police vested with authority over citizens.
Raisi, who led the country’s judiciary before becoming president, said the inquiry into Amini’s death is there. As elections and open debate take place in Iran, the highest echelons of the government closely follow the supreme leader, who has the final word on major state affairs and appoints the head of the judiciary.
Protests have escalated over the past five days into an open defiance of the government, with women removing and burning their state-mandated headscarves in the streets and Iranians calling for the fall of the Islamic Republic itself. These are the most serious demonstrations since 2019, when protests broke out against a government increase in the price of gasoline.
While not openly condemning the protests, he appeared to be on the side of the lethal response that left some protesters dead.
“What’s going on, having demonstrations… of course this is normal and totally accepted,” he said. “We must differentiate between protesters and vandalism. Demonstrations are good for expressing specific issues.”
He added: “There is a debate in Iran.”
The demonstrations in Iran began as an emotional outpouring over the death of Amini, whose death was condemned by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.
The US government has imposed sanctions on the morality police and leaders of other Iranian security agencies, saying they “routinely employ violence to repress peaceful protesters”.
Iranian police say Amini died of a heart attack and was not mistreated, but her family has doubts about that. Independent experts affiliated with the UN said on Thursday that reports suggest she was severely beaten by the moral police, without offering evidence.
Aya Batrawy, a journalist for the Dubai-based AP, is covering the UN General Assembly. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ayaelb and for more AP coverage of the UN General Assembly visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly