Iranian police said on Monday the death of a young woman in custody was an "unfortunate incident," a semi-official news agency reported, and denied accusations of mistreatment that fueled a third day of protests against the authorities.
Mahsa Amini, 22, fell into a coma and died following her arrest in Tehran last week by the morality police, sparking demonstrations in Tehran and the Kurdistan province she came from.
Her death has been condemned nationwide, with the Persian hashtag #MahsaAmini reaching 1.8 million Twitter mentions. However, the most intense demonstrations have been in Iranian Kurdistan, where authorities have previously put down unrest among minority Kurds.
On Monday, protesters threw rocks at security forces in the town of Divandarreh in Kurdistan, a video posted on Twitter by Kurdish rights group Hengaw showed.
A widely-followed Iranian Twitter account that focuses on protests in Iran said shopkeepers had gone on strike in Kurdish cities on Monday.
Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the videos.
The police have said Amini fell ill as she waited with other women being held by the morality police, who enforce strict rules imposed since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution requiring women to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothes in public.
But her father told the pro-reform Emtedad news website on Sunday that his daughter was fit with no health problems. He said Amini had suffered bruises to her legs and he held the police responsible for her death.
“This incident was unfortunate for us and we wish to never witness such incidents.”Hossein Rahimi, Greater Tehran Police Commander
Greater Tehran Police Commander Hossein Rahimi said "cowardly accusations" had been made against Iranian police, that Amini suffered no physical harm, and the police had "done everything" to keep her alive.
"This incident was unfortunate for us and we wish to never witness such incidents," Rahimi said in the statement reported by the Fars news agency.
The police screened a video showing a woman identified as Amini walking into a room and taking a seat alongside others. It then fast-forwards to show her on her feet as she talked to someone who appeared to be inspecting part of her clothing.
The woman identified as Amini then raised her hands to her head and collapsed.
Rahimi said paramedics arrived within one minute of her collapse.
Amini's father told Emtedad on Sunday that the police took two hours to transfer her to the hospital and that if she had arrived earlier she would not have died.
Rahimi said he could not comment on the cause of death because this was a medical rather than a security issue, adding that the morality police were "doing positive work."
Offenders against Iran's sharia, or Islamic law, face public rebuke, fines or arrest. But in recent months activists have urged women to remove veils despite the hardline rulers' crackdown on "immoral behavior."
An official organization that promotes Islamic morals on Monday issued a statement urging reform to the way Iran implements rules on hijab wearing, calling for less policing and more encouragment for women to abide by the rules.
“Clerics, get lost,” protesters in Tehran chant
Her death has the potential to ramp up tension between the establishment and a Kurdish minority numbering 8 to 10 million.
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have put down unrest in the country’s Kurdish areas for decades.
Videos shared on Twitter late on Sunday showed protesters demonstrating in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province.
A video posted by Hengaw showed security forces in riot gear running down a street in the city, at least one of them firing what appeared to be a gun.
#BreakingAt least nine citizens, including two women, have been injured by direct fire from the security forces at protesters in Sanandaj on Sunday evening, September 18, 2022.#Mahsa_Amini#Zhina_Amini— Hengaw Organization for Human Rights (@Hengaw_English) September 18, 2022
The widely-followed Iranian protest Twitter account posted footage showing what it said was a protest at a Tehran university against the Basij, a paramilitary militia force.
"Basij get lost," the protesters chanted.
"I will kill the one who killed my sister ... By cannon, tank or firecracker, clerics get lost."
Reuters could not independently verify the videos.