Iran situation 'critical': UN rights chief

The situation in Iran is "critical", the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says, describing a hardening of the authorities' response to protests that have resulted in more than 300 deaths in the past two months.

"The rising number of deaths from protests in Iran, including those of two children at the weekend, and the hardening of the response by security forces, underline the critical situation in the country," said a spokesperson for UN human rights chief Volker Turk at a Geneva media briefing on Tuesday.

The Islamic Republic has been gripped by nationwide protests since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in morality police custody on September 16 after she was arrested for wearing clothes deemed "inappropriate".

The protests have turned into a popular revolt by Iranians from all layers of society, posing one of the boldest challenges to the clerical rulers since the 1979 revolution.

Iran's World Cup team declined to sing their anthem before their opening World Cup match on Monday in a sign of support for the protests.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said more than 300 people had been killed so far, including more than 40 children. These deaths occurred across the country.

In the same briefing, OHCHR spokesperson Jeremy Laurence also voiced concern about the situation in mainly Kurdish cities where it has reports of more than 40 people killed by security forces in the past week.

Protests have been at their most intense in western provinces where the majority of Iran's 10 million Kurds live.

Several videos on social media showed crowds fleeing live bullets from security forces, with footage in the Kurdish-populated city of Javanrud showing people taking cover behind a wall, attending to one injured man and seeking to retrieve the body of a dead protester lying on the street.

Hengaw, a Kurdish Iranian rights group, shared a video on Monday of security forces being dispatched to the Kurdish cities of Mahabad and Bukan in dozens of pick-ups, motorbikes, police cars and one light armoured vehicle painted black.

Tehran has blamed foreign enemies and their agents for orchestrating the demonstrations, and on Tuesday said 40 foreign nationals had been arrested for their role in the unrest.

NetBlocks, which tracks connectivity around the world, on Monday tweeted that mobile internet was cut off for many users in Iran.