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Jailed Kurdish politicians shave their heads to protest death in custody of Mahsa Amini

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Two Kurdish politicians currently behind bars in Turkey shaved their heads on Friday to protest the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in the custody of Iran’s “morality police” last week, after Iranian and Turkish women’s rights’ activists had cut their hair for the same purpose, local media reported.

Arrested by the morality police, who enforce strict rules in the Islamic Republic requiring women to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothes in public, for allegedly wearing the hijab improperly, Amini suffered a heart attack, fell into a coma and died on Sept. 16 while in custody, state-affiliated media claimed.

Her family insists she had no previous health problems, and activists claim she may have been beaten by police.

The death of Amini, a Kurdish woman from western Iran, has sparked outrage over the government’s increasingly strict enforcement of an ultraconservative dress code for women, compulsory since Iran’s 1979 revolution, with women standing up against the morality police by cutting off their hair, removing and even burning their hijabs in public and dressing up as men to fight the officers.

Selahattin Demirtaş, a former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and Selçuk Mızraklı, the former mayor of Diyarbakır from the same party, joined the protests on Friday by shaving their heads.

The development was announced on social media by Demirtaş’s wife Başak Demirtaş, who said in a tweet that Demirtaş and Mızraklı had shaved their heads to “protest the murder of Mahsa Amini” and “to support the resistance in Iran.”

His wife also shared a photo of a handwritten note from Demirtaş in which the jailed Kurdish leader said they feel deep in their hearts the pain of Amini, “who was murdered by the Iranian morality police because a strand of her hair was showing.”

Noting that he and Mızraklı shaved their heads “to support the struggle for equality and freedom that women bravely lead,” Demirtaş added, “Sooner or later, all orders of oppression and tyranny will be destroyed in the face of the people’s resistance.”

Arrested on Nov. 4, 2016 on terrorism-related charges, Demirtaş has since then remained in prison despite two European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings in 2018 and 2020 that said Demirtaş was imprisoned for “political” reasons and not for “legal” reasons, ordering his “immediate release.”

Mızraklı was removed from office by the Interior Ministry on Aug. 19, 2019, and a trustee was appointed in his place. He was arrested in October 2019 and sentenced to nine years, four months in prison for alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community. An appeals court upheld his sentence in March 2020.

Human Rights Watch previously said the Turkish authorities’ removal and arrest of democratically elected Kurdish mayors across southeastern Turkey violated voters’ rights.

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