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The Iranian government plans to use military force on protestors


The Iranian government says the military will be deployed to quell protests that have continued this past week, sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody. Twenty-two-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being arrested over an allegation of improper attire. State media reports some 35 people have been killed in the unrest. NPR's Peter Kenyon has been covering this story from Istanbul.

Peter, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: And how do you assess the situation in Iran since the military announced it's going to support security forces against the demonstrators?

KENYON: Well, there were still anti-regime protests happening in multiple Iranian cities despite the announcement by the military. The news did signal, however, the government's willingness to expand and intensify its already violent crackdown against the demonstrations. So at the moment, the protesters are sounding defiant as ever, but the concern is growing about an even harsher response by the government.

SIMON: And there were pro-government rallies recently, right? What were they like?

KENYON: There were. Images posted on social media showed fairly large crowds attending the pro-government rallies organized by the administration of President Ebrahim Raisi. But after they ended, other footage showed anti-government protesters gathering in large numbers in several neighborhoods of the capital, Tehran, and elsewhere. It's not clear if the government was intending to change people's minds with those pro-government rallies or if they intended to portray the protesters as troublemakers inspired by foreign governments in an effort to justify a heavy crackdown.

SIMON: Peter, please remind us, how did all this begin?

KENYON: Well, the protests were sparked by the arrest and subsequent death in custody of Mahsa Amini, who was detained by Iran's so-called morality police, who objected to the way she was wearing the hijab, allegedly not sufficiently covering her hair. Amini's family rejected the official explanation that she fell ill, collapsed and died of natural causes while in custody. They said there was evidence of at least one blow to the head. They also said the authorities had told them to bury her quickly at night and not talk about her death.

Demonstrations grew in Amini's home province in northwest Iran, spread to Tehran and more than a dozen other cities across the country. And we should note, I think, that these demonstrations are not just about this woman's death. The complaints cover the economy, corruption, the environment, social repression. And there's sharp criticism of Iran's clerical establishment.

Analyst Sanam Vakil at the London-based Chatham House think tank told me that Amini's death simply reignited long standing grievances among Iranians. Here's how she put it.

SANAM VAKIL: This response to the death of Mahsa Amini - her tragic death - I think is bringing up so many different grievances and emotion to a people that are repressed, angry and feel that their issues and grievances are ignored and not important.

KENYON: Now, Vakil also suggests that President Raisi's return from the U.N. General Assembly in New York could signal that the crackdown is imminent.

SIMON: What happens next, Peter?

KENYON: Well, that's a question many people are asking these days. The Raisi government has promised a thorough and full investigation. However, the interior minister is already declaring that his own investigation confirms the official explanation - that Amini was not beaten but fainted and later died. Whether that will satisfy the protesters remains to be seen. It seems unlikely. So far, this crisis has shown that the Iranian establishment is willing to do what it takes to stay in power, including, apparently, military intervention against civilian protesters.

SIMON: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul.

Thanks so much for being with us.

KENYON: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.