Iranian city shops shut after strike call, judiciary blames 'rioters'

A newspaper with a cover picture of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic's "morality police" is seen in Tehran, Iran September 18, 2022. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo

DUBAI, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Iranian shops shut their doors in several cities on Monday, following calls for a three-day nationwide strike from protesters seeking the fall of clerical rulers, while the head of the judiciary blamed what he called "rioters" for threatening shopkeepers.

Iran has been rocked by nationwide unrest following the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 in police custody, posing one of the strongest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.

Amini was arrested by Iran's morality police for flouting the strict hijab policy, which requires women to dress modestly and wear headscarfs. Women have played a prominent role in the protests, many of them waving or burning their headscarfs.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Monday that an amusement park at a Tehran shopping centre was closed by the judiciary because its operators were not wearing the hijab properly.

The reformist-leaning Hammihan newspaper said that morality police had increased their presence in cities outside Tehran, where the force has been less active over recent weeks.

Iran's public prosecutor on Saturday was cited by the semi-official Iranian Labour News Agency as saying that the morality police had been disbanded. But there was no confirmation from the Interior Ministry and state media said the public prosecutor was not responsible for overseeing the force.

Ali Khanmohammadi, spokesman for Iran's headquarters for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice which oversees implementation of religious edicts, said on Monday the era of the morality police was over, but that there will be other methods to enforce Islamic dress code.

"Decisions are being made to confront those violations of hijab by a small group of women... officials cannot remain indifferent towards these violations," Khanmohammadi said

Last week, Vice President for Women's Affairs Ensieh Khazali said that the hijab was part of the Islamic Republic's general law and that it guaranteed women's social movement and security.

In the shop protests, 1500tasvir, a Twitter account with 380,000 followers focused on the protests, shared videos on Monday of shut stores in commercial areas such as Tehran's Bazaar, and other large cities such as Karaj, Isfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz, and Shiraz.

Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.

The head of Iran's judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, said that "rioters" were threatening shopkeepers to close their businesses and added they would be swiftly dealt with by the judiciary and security bodies. Ejei said protesters condemned to death would soon be executed.

The Revolutionary Guards issued a statement praising the judiciary and calling on it to swiftly and decisively issue a judgement against "defendants accused of crimes against the security of the nation and Islam".

Security forces would show no mercy towards "rioters, thugs, terrorists", the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted the guards as saying.

Witnesses speaking to Reuters said riot police and the Basij militia had been heavily deployed in central Tehran.

The semi-official Fars news agency confirmed that a jewellery shop belonging to former Iranian footballer Ali Daei was sealed by authorities, following its decision to close down for the three days of the general strike.

Similar footage by 1500tasvir and other activist accounts was shared of closed shops in smaller cities like Bojnourd, Kerman, Sabzevar, Ilam, Ardabil and Lahijan.

Kurdish Iranian rights group Hengaw also reported that 19 cities had joined the strike movement in western Iran, where most of the country's Kurdish population live.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the unrest since the death of Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was detained by the morality police for flouting hijab rules.

Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Michael Georgy, Nick Macfie and Angus MacSwan

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