Tehran: The young Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, whose death in police custody triggered nationwide protests, was a shy, reserved resident of a small town who never challenged the country’s clerical rulers or its Islamic dress code, sources close to the family said.
Amini, from the northwestern Kurdish city of Saqez, died three days after she was arrested in hospital after falling into a coma. It sparked the first big show of opposition on Iran’s streets since authorities crushed fuel price protests in 2019 in which 1,500 people were killed.
Authorities deny beating Amini and insisted in a statement that the cause of death was sudden heart failure, possibly from preexisting conditions. But the family has denied the 22-year-old had any previous health issues.
Amini minded her own business and steered clear of politics, two sources close to her family said, traits that most Iranians hope would keep them out of trouble in the Islamic Republic.
But on September 13, Amini would pay a heavy price for not paying attention to every detail of her clothing as she and her family visited her uncle in Tehran.
She was arrested as soon as she stepped out of a train station in the evening.
Amini was suddenly confronted by the morality police, a force tasked with detaining people who violate Iran’s conservative dress code in order to “promote virtue and prevent vice”.
The typical unit consists of a van with a mixed male and female crew that patrols or waits at busy public spaces to police non-proper behaviour and dress.
Her crime? Wearing tight trousers.
Amini and her brother begged for mercy, saying they were not familiar with the rules in Tehran. She was begging her brother not to let them take her.
Her brother waited in front of Vozara morality police detention centre for her. But after two hours an ambulance arrived to transfer her to a hospital. The family eventualy found Amini at the Kasra hospital Doctors kept the family in the dark. Loved ones had no access to her CT scan. In the coroner’s office her body was covered in such a way that her father could not see anything except a small part of her leg that was bruised, the sources said.
“He kept begging doctors to brief him about his daughter’s condition. But no one answered him,” said another source.
Cameras in the van did not function
Women who were arrested along with Mahsa told her father that she was beaten inside a van that was transporting them. She was crying and pleading with police to let her go, the father was told.
“The police told the father that cameras in the van did not function. So, the family does not know what happened inside the van and at the detention centre,” said one of the sources close to the family.
“They do not believe in the video published by authorities that shows her suddenly falling at the police station. Her family believes that the video was edited.” In an instant, she would be robbed of her dreams of one day getting married and having children after finishing university.
“She wanted to live a normal and happy life,” said one of the sources.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has said he had ordered an investigation into the case of Amini.
Officials said 41 people, including members of the police and a pro-government militia, had died during the protests. But Iranian human rights groups have reported a higher toll.
Amini’s death has drawn international condemnation while Iran has blamed “thugs” linked to “foreign enemies” for the unrest. Tehran has accused the United States and some European countries of using the unrest to try to destabilise the Islamic Republic.
Far removed from politics, Amini’s family is still trying to make sense of her death.
Her mother insists that Mahsa’s hijab was proper. During the funeral, she was repeatedly saying “Why, why? My daughter had proper Hijab and her coat was long and black, but I don’t know why she was arrested.” “Where is my daughter? Where is my child?” she repeats everyday, said the sources close to the family.
A statement on Instagram from the hospital which was later taken down said she was brain dead when she arrived there.
“Resuscitation was performed on the patient and her heartbeat returned and the patient was admitted to the intensive care unit,” the hospital said.
“But unfortunately, after 48 hours on Friday, she had a cardiac arrest again, due to brain death. In spite of the medical team’s efforts, the medical team could not revive her and she died.” Iranian authorities have told Amini’s relatives to avoid speaking about her case, said the two sources close to the family. Her father, mother and uncle do not answer their phones.