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Iranian news broadcast hacked after female students heckle president

An image of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei flashed on the screen alongside critical messages.

A news bulletin on Iranian state television was hacked as video of the country's supreme leader was broadcast on Saturday, all while protests sparked by the death of a young woman following her arrest continued across the country.

The hackers flashed an image of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Underneath was an image of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by morality police on Sept. 13 for allegedly violating the country’s strictly enforced Islamic dress code. She died three days later.

Image: TOPSHOT-IRAN-PROTEST-WOMEN
Unrest on the streets of the Iranian capital Tehran on Saturday.AFP - Getty Images

Her picture appeared alongside three other women allegedly killed during the unrest.

Throughout the 15-second hack, a caption read “Join us and stand up!” along with text criticizing Khamenei for their deaths. A song with the lyrics “Woman. Life. Freedom” — a common chant of the protesters — played in the background.

Social media details for a group calling itself “Edalat Ali” or “Ali’s Justice” were also posted on the screen.

Several state-run Iranian media outlets noted Sunday that similar hacks had taken place in the past. NBC News has not independently verified the reports.

Image: IRAN-PROTEST-WOMEN-HACKERS-TV
A masked figure that interrupted a state television live news broadcast across Iran on Saturday. AFP - Getty Images

The protests, which Iran’s leaders have attempted to characterize as a foreign plot, entered their fourth week Sunday despite a fierce crackdown by authorities in Iran.

Demonstrations that began on Sept. 17 at the funeral of 22-year-old Amini in her hometown of Saqez continued in several cities, including in the Iranian capital city of Tehran, where hundreds of people took to the streets.

Police initially said Amini, an Iranian Kurd, died after falling ill and slipping into a coma. But a coroner’s report published Friday said that she died from multiple organ failure.

Her family has said that witnesses told them she had been beaten by officers — an allegation denied by law enforcement officials.

With the protests showing little sign of abating, at least two people were killed on Saturday as riot police mobilized to confront the mass rallies, the German-based Hengaw Organization for Human Rights said in a tweet, which NBC News could not independently verify.

But one video posted on Twitter on Saturday and verified by NBC News showed a man bleeding heavily in his car, in the western city of Sanandaj, the capital of northwestern Kurdistan province.

Both the Kurdistan Human Rights Network, based in France, and Hengaw said the man was shot after honking at security forces stationed on the street. NBC News cannot independently verify the report, but honking has become one of the ways activists have expressed civil disobedience.

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A demonstrator holds a portrait of Mahsa Amini during a rally in Washington this month. Cliff Owen / AP

The Kurdistan police chief, Brigadier-General Ali Azadi, in an interview with the state-run IRNA news agency, denied that police had killed the man. He added the police don’t use live rounds and the police were not at the scene.

Patrols have deterred mass gatherings in Sanandaj but isolated protests have continued in the city’s densely populated neighborhoods, according to The Associated Press.

Another video of a protest in the northeastern city of Mashhad showed a group of men throwing Molotov cocktails and other projectiles in the direction of nearby riot police. NBC News has verified the video.

Meanwhile, many shops were closed in Tehran as several protests erupted across the city, according to the AP.

Elsewhere, a visit by Iran's president, Ebrahim Raisi, to a women's university in Tehran seemingly backfired after the students there began to heckle him.

A large group of female students can be seen waving their headscarves, clapping their hands and shouting slogans against Raisi and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a video posted to Twitter and verified by NBC News shows.

The protests have been fueled by the death of two teenage girls since the unrest began, including Sarina Esmaeilzadeh, 16.

Chief justice Hossein Fazeli Herikandi said Friday that a preliminary investigation showed Esmaeilzadeh’s death was a suicide after she fell from the roof of a five-story building, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

This has been disputed by several rights groups including Amnesty International, and there has been widespread condemnation of the official investigation's conclusion on social media.

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The death of Nika Shakarami, 16, has also been questioned.

A statement from the Superintendent of the Criminal Prosecutor’s Office of Tehran Province Friday said the body was found in the backyard of a house in Tehran on Sept. 21.

The statement said her death was not related to the ongoing anti-government protests and that the medical examination of her body showed no trace of bullets. The investigation into her death is ongoing, the statement said.

Shakarami’s mother, Nasreen Shakarami, disputed that in an interview with Radio Farda Thursday. She told the station — the Iranian branch of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe — that a forensics report showed that her daughter had died from repeated blows to the head, according to a report from the AP.

 NBC News cannot verify the report.