Iranian women police, all hijab-clad and armed with assault rifles, have been at the forefront of attacks on women protesters demonstrating against the government's order to keep them veiled in a bid to address the issue of women’s freedom as much as to quell the protests that have swept across the country in recent days. Police assault has killed at least 50 people after Iranian security forces cracked down on protests that erupted following the death of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested by the morality police that had women cops as well.
Oslo-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) NGO told news agency AFP that the number of deaths went up after six people were killed by fire from the security forces on 22 September in Rezvanshahr in the northern Gilan province in the night, with other deaths recorded in Babol and Amol, also in northern Iran.
State TV claims though that the death toll from this week's unrest is 26. There had been protests in some 80 cities and other urban centres since the demonstrations started one week ago, it said.
The leader of the Iranian women police unit, Colonel Heydari, says, "The arrival of our women's police force is to bring peace. I'm sorry to see other women in these protests carrying out illegal actions that are inconsistent with social rules. We are here to oppose them in accordance with procedures based on Islamic values."
The unit was established by the Faraja Public Service Organisation, which is part of the Iranian Armed Forces and is closely linked to the country's repressive police force.
Iran's first group of female police officers since the 1979 Islamic revolution stand in line during a graduation ceremony (AFP)
There is also an undercover unit of women cops that will be working to infiltrate groups of protestors, sources said.
Col Heydari explains that her unit's task involves photographing anyone seen violating morality laws or suspected of spreading chaos, but images of female officers wielding guns and abseiling down buildings suggest their role may be more hands-on.
Women were welcomed into Iranian law enforcement for the first time since the 1979 revolution in 2003. Their three-year training regime includes mastering guns, judo, fencing and explosives.
Iranian women a house divided
Iranian counter-protesters gathered across the country yesterday in a show of support for authorities after nearly a week of anti-government protests and unrest over the death of a young woman who was being held by the morality police.
A few thousand people attended a rally in the capital, Tehran, where they waved Iranian flags, and similar demonstrations were held in other cities. The government claimed the demonstrations of support were spontaneous. Similar rallies have been held during past periods of widespread protests.
The pro-government demonstrators chanted against America and Israel, according to state media, reflecting the official line that foreign countries are fomenting the latest unrest.
How it began
The crisis unfolding in Iran began as a public outpouring of anger over the death of Amini, a young woman who was arrested by the morality police in Tehran last week for allegedly wearing her Islamic headscarf too loosely. The police said she died of a heart attack and was not ill-treated, but her family has cast doubt on that account.
Amini's death has sparked sharp condemnation from Western countries and the United Nations and touched a national nerve. Hundreds of Iranians across at least 13 cities from Tehran to Amini's northwest Kurdish hometown of Saqez have poured into the streets, voicing pent-up anger over social and political repression. Authorities have alleged that unnamed foreign countries and opposition groups are trying to foment unrest.
Videos on social media show protesters in Tehran torching a police car and confronting officers at close range. Elsewhere in the capital, videos show gunfire sounding out as protesters bolt from riot police, shouting: “They are shooting at people! Oh my God, they're killing people!”