Iranians have taken to the streets for a 10th consecutive night to protest against the death of Mahsa Amini in defiance of a warning from the judiciary.
Officially at least 41 people have died since the unrest began, mostly protesters but including members of the security forces, but sources say the real figure is higher.
Norway-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR) said on Sunday evening that the death toll was at least 57, but noted that ongoing internet blackouts were making it increasingly difficult to confirm fatalities in a context where the women-led protests have spread to scores of cities.
Images circulated by IHR showed protesters on the streets of Tehran shouting “death to the dictator”, purportedly after nightfall on Sunday.
Echoing a warning the previous day by the president, Ebrahim Raisi, the judiciary chief, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, on Sunday “emphasised the need for decisive action without leniency” against the core instigators of the “riots”, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website said.
Hundreds of demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested amid the mostly night-time demonstrations since unrest first broke out after 22-year-old Amini’s death in police custody on 16 September. Amini was detained by the morality police for not wearing a hijab properly.
Iran’s largest protests in almost three years have seen security forces fire live rounds, while protesters have hurled rocks, torched police cars and set fire to state buildings.
Some female protesters have removed and burned their hijabs in the rallies and cut off their hair, some dancing near large bonfires to the applause of crowds that have chanted “zan, zendegi, azadi” or “woman, life, freedom”.
Web monitor NetBlocks noted “rolling blackouts” and “widespread internet platform restrictions”, with WhatsApp, Instagram and Skype having already been blocked. This followed older bans on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Telegram.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, its foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said “the widespread and disproportionate use of force against nonviolent protesters is unjustifiable and unacceptable”. He condemned the internet restrictions as “blatantly violating freedom of expression”.
Iran has summoned the British and Norwegian ambassadors over what it called interference and hostile media coverage, while the foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, also criticised US support for “rioters”.
On Sunday, the US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the US had taken “tangible steps” to sanction the morality police.
The UK was blamed for the “hostile character” of London-based Farsi media. The UK foreign ministry said it championed media freedom and condemned Iran’s “crackdown on protesters, journalists and internet freedom”.
Norway’s envoy was summoned to explain the “interventionist stance” of its parliament’s speaker, Tehran-born Masud Gharahkhani, who has expressed support for the protesters.
“If my parents had not made the choice to flee in 1987, I would have been one of those fighting in the streets with my life on the line,” Gharahkhani tweeted on Sunday.
Pro-government rallies were also held on Sunday, with the main event taking place in central Tehran.
But one of the main teachers unions on Sunday called for teachers and students to stage a national strike on Monday and Wednesday.
Protests abroad have been held in solidarity with Iranian women in Athens, Berlin, Brussels, Istanbul, Madrid, New York and Paris, among other cities.
Iranian Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi called on activists and artists around the world to support the protesters, who he said were “looking for simple and yet fundamental rights that the state has denied them for years”.
“I deeply respect their struggle for freedom and the right to choose their own destiny despite all the brutality they are subjected to,” Farhadi said in a post on Instagram.
With Agence France-Presse and Reuters