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Why Iranian women are cutting their hair and burning their headscarves in protest

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody has sparked massive protests throughout Iran — and around the world.
/ Source: TODAY

The death of a young woman while in custody of Iran's morality police has sparked protests across the country — and around the world — as women burn their headscarves and cut their ponytails in protest of the government's restrictions on social freedoms.

Women have been at the forefront of the protests that have erupted in dozens of cities throughout Iran for seven days straight. Images and video shared on social media showed women defying the country's strict dress code that allegedly led to 22-year-old Mahsa Amini's arrest.

Amini was approached by the morality police outside of a subway station while she was vacationing in Tehran on Sept. 13 and arrested for allegedly violating the country's strictly enforced dress code, NBC News reported.

Police said Amini became ill, had a heart attack and fell into a coma, and she was declared dead on Sept. 16. Authorities denied mistreating Amini and said an investigation into her death is ongoing, but her family denied that she had prior health issues.

In one video of a protest in recent days, a woman twirls as she throws a headscarf into a bonfire before others start throwing their headscarves into the flames. Another video shows a woman cutting off her hair in front of a large crowd that is cheering her on.

Iran women protest
Nasibe Samsaei, an Iranian woman living in Turkey, cuts her ponytail off during a protest outside the Iranian consulate in Istanbul on Sept. 21 following the death of an Iranian woman after her arrest by the country's morality police in Tehran.Yasin Akgul / AFP via Getty Images

NBC News reports many protesters have chanted against the Iranian government and in favor of women's rights, in addition to the public acts of defiance of the country's dress code. Since 1979, women in Iran have been required to wear a headscarf and loose clothing while in public.

In response to the protests, police have fired live rounds and water cannons at the demonstrators, and have beaten them with clubs. At least 26 people have died during the protests in the country, according to Iranian state TV.

TODAY could not independently verify the number of people killed in the protests.

Access to the Internet has been limited in several cities throughout Iran, according to state media reports and the Kurdistan-based Hengaw Organization for Human Rights. Iran has also limited access to Instagram, one of the only remaining social media platforms in the country, according to internet shutdown watchdog NetBlocks.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has ordered an investigation into Amini's death and expressed his sympathy to Amini's family in a phone call, according to his official website.

"Your daughter is like my own daughter, and I feel that this incident happened to one of my loved ones," Raisi said. "Please accept my condolences."