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'Atrocity' | Iranian Americans in San Diego watch protests grow over young woman's death

San Diegans with Iranian ties are coming together to support the protests.

SAN DIEGO — Protests in Iran are growing following the death of a young woman while in custody of the morality police, she was arrested for not properly wearing her hijab.

Mahsa Amini, 22-years-old, died in custody, triggering historic protests that are being watched across the globe. Iranian police said Amini died of a heart attack and deny that she was mistreated. 

Amini’s family said she has no history of heart trouble. As those protests and demonstrations grow, Iranian Americans in San Diego said they can only sit back and watch feeling helpless.

Sara Taghavi is Iranian American and lives in San Diego who said, "This is a tragedy and an atrocity. It's crucial for us who have the means to increase the awareness of the global scheme and spread their voices. My hope is for the world leaders acknowledge these atrocities for what they are."

As of Thursday afternoon, at least nine protestors have been killed in Iran. Taghavi said citizens of Iran are standing up to a conservative regime enforcing sharia law. 

"It basically eliminates all human rights, particularly women's rights. Imposing harsh restrictions on women’s dress, child custody, foreign travel, divorce and the list goes on. Brave women in Iran are risking their lives, cutting off their hairs, burning their hijabs in protest under the slogan 'Women, life, freedom," Taghavi said.

Ali Sadr is also Iranian American and has lived in San Diego for decades.

"They're my sisters. They're my daughters. So... human rights matter. Women's rights matter," Sadr said.

Sadr got emotional thinking of the protestors and why they had to take their fight to the streets, risking their lives. 

"I don't know how I cannot get emotional. Mahsa was just 22 years old and her whole life was in front of her and just getting arrested for not having proper hijab and getting killed for that? It's devastating. Doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman. You're human and women's rights is human rights," Sadr Said.

Both Taghavi and Sadr told CBS 8 that internet connection for citizens of Iran has been cut off, leaving the country's citizens with limited information about what's going on outside of what they are being told by the Iranian run state media. 

Sadr said if this can be bypassed allowing for internet connection to the public, that will be helpful. 

Sadr said that too much involvement from the United States could make the situation worse.

"Unfortunately, anywhere we've gotten involved with this situation, the US made the situation worse. Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Iraq, you name it, the list is endless. If there's any way they can communicate and bypass that internet sanction, that will be very helpful," Sadr said.

There will be a vigil for Amini at the House of Iran Saturday, September 24 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Organizers said it will not be a political event but will be a vigil to honor the young woman’s life.

U.S. imposes sanctions

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. government on Thursday imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police and leaders of other government agencies after the death of a woman who'd been detained over an accusation she violated the country’s dress code by wearing her Islamic headgear too loosely.

The sanctions come after at least nine protesters have been killed in clashes with Iranian security forces since violence erupted over the weekend because of the young woman's death.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control also designated the leaders of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the Army’s Ground Forces, the Basij Resistance Forces and other law enforcement agencies for the sanctions, which deny them access of their properties and bank accounts held in the U.S.

“These officials oversee organizations that routinely employ violence to suppress peaceful protesters and members of Iranian civil society, political dissidents, women’s rights activists, and members of the Iranian Baha’i community,” the Treasury said in a news release.

The morality police detained 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last week, saying she didn't properly cover her hair with the Islamic headscarf, known as the hijab, which is mandatory for Iranian women. Amini collapsed at a police station and died three days later.

Police say that she died of a heart attack and deny that she was mistreated. The government released video footage purporting to show the moment she collapsed. Her family says she had no history of heart trouble, and her death in police custody has triggered daring displays of defiance from protesters, in the face of beatings and possible arrest.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the U.S. calls on the Iranian government “to end its violence against women and its ongoing violent crackdown on free expression and assembly.”

“Mahsa Amini was a courageous woman whose death in Morality Police custody was yet another act of brutality by the Iranian regime’s security forces against its own people,” Yellen said.

Amini's death has prompted Iranians to take to the streets of Tehran and other parts of the country. Many Iranians, particularly the young, have come to see her death as part of the Islamic Republic’s heavy-handed policing of dissent and the morality police’s increasingly violent treatment of young women.

An anchor on Iran’s state television suggested the death toll from the mass protests could be as high as 17, but he did not say how he reached that figure.

Iran has faced global condemnation over Amini's death, with the U.N. human rights office calling for an investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 

WATCH RELATED: Breaking down what is happening in Iran after Mahsa Amini was killed by 'morality police' (Sep. 2022).

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