An Iranian teenage girl who fell into a coma after an alleged altercation with the country’s morality police on a Tehran metro train has died, state-run media and activists have said.
Armita Geravand, 16, collapsed after boarding a train on 1 October, and having what human rights groups claim was a confrontation with officials over violating the country’s hijab law.
Norway-based human rights group Hengaw, which focuses on Iran’s Kurdish ethnic minority, alleged it had received a report that Armita had “become the latest victim of forced hijab and has died after 28 days [in hospital]”.
Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA said: “Unfortunately, the brain damage to the victim caused her to spend some time in a coma and she died a few minutes ago... According to the official theory of Armita Geravand’s doctors, after a sudden drop in blood pressure, she suffered a fall, a brain injury.”
Police have denied the accusations of an altercation from activists. Armita’s parents appeared in state media footage saying a blood pressure issue, a fall or perhaps both contributed to their daughter’s fatal injury.
Hengaw, which earlier published a photograph of Armita in a coma, renewed its calls on Saturday for an independent international investigation citing “the practice of the Islamic Republic in concealing the truth”. It cited the use of pressure on victims’ families and state television’s history of airing coerced confessions. “During the last 28 days, the Islamic Republic of Iran tried to distort the narrative,” the group alleged.
The incident involving Armita came a year after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was in custody after being detained by morality police in Tehran for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly. Witnesses alleged Amini was beaten by officers, but authorities attributed her death to pre-existing medical conditions. Amini’s death had galvanised unprecedented and widespread protests in the country.
Armita’s injury came as Iran has put its morality police back on the street, and as there is a push from hardliners to enforce even stricter penalties for violating laws over wearing the hijab. In September this year, Iran’s parliament passed a “hijab bill”, under which women can face up to 10 years in prison for breaches of the rules. Internationally, Armita’s injury sparked renewed criticism of Iran’s treatment of women and of the mandatory hijab law.
Imprisoned Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi won the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month in recognition of her tireless campaigning for women’s rights and democracy, and against the death penalty. The Iranian government criticised the award as a political stunt, without acknowledging its own decades-long campaign targeting Mohammadi for her work.
Iran remains squeezed by sanctions and faces ever-rising tensions with the West over its rapidly advancing nuclear programme and its aid to regional militant groups, including a renewed focus on its relationship with Hamas following that group’s unprecedented attack on Israel.
For observant Muslim women, the head covering is a sign of piety before God and modesty in front of men outside their families. In Iran, the hijab – and the all-encompassing black chador worn by some – has long been a political symbol as well, particularly after becoming mandatory in the years following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran and neighbouring Taliban-ruled Afghanistan are the only countries where the hijab remains mandatory for women.
Associated Press contributed to this report