(Bloomberg) -- Protests gripping Iran are getting unprecedented public support from celebrities spanning the arts and sport, underscoring the depth of the anger sparked by the death in custody of a young woman.

At least six actresses, several with high-profile roles in popular TV series, joined thousands of other women who have publicly removed their headscarves or cut their hair in solidarity with Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old whose fate has triggered some of the biggest anti-government protests since the 1979 revolution. 

“I’m an Iranian woman who for years because of enforcement and fear, wore a headscarf, but it was never my choice and it no longer will be,” actrress Shiva Ebrahimi wrote on her Instagram account. Amini was arrested by morality police in Tehran for allegedly breaking the country’s dress code for women that mandates hair must be covered and loose-fitting clothes. 

In response to the actresses’ expressions of support, the state, which has a virtual monopoly on Iran’s broadcast services, has effectively fired them all.

Minister for Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad-Mehdi Esmaili said the women had “broken the law” by posting unveiled photos on their social media sites and “can freely start new jobs elsewhere.” 

Iranian officials haven’t released a death toll for the protests since Saturday, when they said 41 people had been killed. On Tuesday, the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights said it had confirmed the deaths of 76 protesters across 14 provinces amid a massive security crackdown. 

Why a Woman’s Death in Iran Has Ignited New Protests: QuickTake

Amini’s family say she was healthy when she left her native western Kurdistan province and died after being beaten in custody and her injuries covered up. Claims by police that she suffered “heart failure” brought on by a pre-existing condition before falling into a coma have fueled the anger on the streets.  

Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi said in a video posted to Instagram on Saturday that women protesters “are looking for simple but fundamental rights that the state has denied them for years” and expressed his pride in their actions. He called on artists, intellectuals and civil-rights activists around the world to stand behind the demonstrators. 

Films are heavily vetted and often censored in Iran. TV shows are overseen by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, which is controlled by hardliners who try to portray a religious and conservative version of Iranian society on television screens.

High-profile athletes have also joined the denunciations of the Iranian leadership, including Dubai-based Ali Karimi, a former midfielder for German soccer team Bayern Munich with 12.3 million Instagram followers. 

The hardline, state-affiliated Fars news has called for his arrest and late on Monday photos shared on Twitter purportedly showed his home in northern Tehran covered in official seizure notices. 

The images couldn’t be verified by Bloomberg but appeared after a conservative political activist and former lawmaker told state TV that Karimi’s property in Iran should be confiscated as punishment. 

Appearing to brush off the threat, Karimi wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that “a home without a land is worthless.” 

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.