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Iran deploys mounted police to quell Mahsa Amini protests

PARIS: Iran has deployed mounted police in a bid to contain more than seven weeks of protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, according to videos posted online. The clerical state has been rocked by a protest movement that erupted when Amini, 22, died after her arrest for allegedly breaking Iran’s strict hijab dress rules for women.

Young women have led the way, removing and burning their head coverings, chanting anti-regime slogans and confronting security forces on the street despite a crackdown that has killed dozens. In a rare move, the authorities have deployed a posse of police on horseback in Tehran’s streets to stifle the demonstrations, according to a video posted on social media and verified by AFP.

The special unit on patrol is seen standing in front of a row of Iranian national flags on a major road in the northwestern neighbourhood of Sadeghiyeh. Created in 2013, the mounted division of Iran’s police force-known as Asvaran-is made up of Turkoman and Arabian horses, among others.

The cavalry unit has been seen on the streets of the Iranian capital in the past, mainly during parades, but it is uncommon to see it deployed during protests. Amini, an Iranian of Kurdish origin, died on September 16, three days after she was arrested in Tehran by the morality police, igniting nationwide protests.

The Iranian authorities have adopted a range of tactics in a bid to suppress the protests, which officials refer to as “riots”. Security forces have fired directly on protesters using live ammunition, bird shot, tear gas and even paintballs. The government has also imposed internet restrictions, including blocking access to Instagram and WhatsApp, and have waged a campaign of mass arrests.

Norway-based group Iran Human Rights says the security forces have killed at least 186 people in the crackdown on the Amini protests. At least another 118 people have lost their lives in distinct protests since September 30 in Sistan-Baluchistan, a mainly Sunni Muslim province on Iran’s southeastern border with Pakistan. Meanwhile,  Iran has charged two women journalists with propaganda against the state, the judiciary said Tuesday, as it presses a crackdown on protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

The clerical state has been rocked by a protest movement that erupted on September 16 when Amini, 22, died after her arrest for allegedly breaking Iran’s strict hijab dress rules for women. Niloufar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, who have both already spent more than a month in detention, “have been remanded in custody for propaganda against the system and conspiring against national security,” judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told a weekly briefing in Tehran.

Hamedi, 30, a journalist for the reformist Shargh newspaper, was arrested on September 20, after she visited the hospital where Amini spent three days in her coma before her death. Mohammadi, 35, a reporter for the Ham Mihan newspaper, was arrested on September 29 after she travelled to Amini’s hometown of Saqez in Kurdistan province to cover her funeral.

The reformist newspaper Sazandegi reported late last month that more than 20 journalists remained in custody for their reporting of Amini’s death or the subsequent unrest. It said several others had been summoned by the authorities. On October 30, more than 300 journalists issued a joint statement criticising the detention of their colleagues and the denial of their rights, including access to a lawyer. Dozens of people, most of them demonstrators, have been killed in the protests over Amini’s death. Hundreds more have been arrested.

“People, even among those protesting, are demanding the judiciary deal firmly with the few people who have caused trouble and committed crimes, of course with full respect for Muslim law and legal norms, and the judicial system will act on this basis,” said Setayeshi. Since the start of the protests, more than 2,000 people have been charged, half of them in Tehran, according to the judiciary. – AFP

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