Unrest protests and demonstrations have erupted in Iran as the nation finally faces the revolution brewing for many years. From the streets of Tehran to remote villages, Iranians are calling for an end to government oppression and a brighter future for their nation. Their turning point? A 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini.
The Death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini
Mahsa Amini, also known by her Kurdish name ‘’Jina’’, was visiting her brother in Tehran when she was taken into police custody. Known as the “gasht- e ershad”, they represent the country’s guidance patrol, monitoring the streets of Iran and arresting those who violate the regime’s morality laws. It was determined that Mahsa’s hijab was being worn improperly — exposing a little too much hair — they detained and violently assaulted her. Typically, this is where the tale of most Iranian women who interact with the morality police ends. For Mahsa, the story ended differently. According to her autopsy and family reports, she suffered from a skull fracture that put her in a coma. Shortly after, she passed away on September 16th, 2022.
Outraged by the death of an innocent young woman, the country erupted into waves of protests, igniting a nationwide revolutionary movement. However, Mahsa’s unfortunate fate is not something new. Her story reminds Iranian women of the daily misery they endure at the hands of a regime that treats women as second-class citizens. While the demonstrations may appear to be centered on wearing the hijab, what is happening in Iran is part of a bigger picture that signals the Iranian struggle toward emancipation.
Establishment of the Islamic Republic
Iran is no stranger to revolutions. In the early 1900s, Iran’s society was shaped around secular and western values under the rule of Reza Shah (ironically, the hijab was banned during his reign). His rule lasted 16 years before he was forced to abdicate the throne due to the Anglo-Soviet invasion and was replaced by his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who took over the monarchy. In a series of political events, Pahlavi’s rule turned increasingly authoritarian, which prompted many civilians to speak out against the government, one of them being a Shia Muslim cleric named Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. For years, Khomeini launched his mission to restore the fading authority of religion over a modernizing society. Although he was forced to go into exile, Pahlavi’s reign crumbled as Khomeini’s new politico-religious totalitarian ideology helped him garner support from the masses. Then finally, public outrage culminated in the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1979, which eventually led to Khomeini claiming the divine mandate to rule, establishing a new constitution for the Islamic Republic, one in which individual freedoms were stifled, and resistance was brutally dismantled.
Although Khomeini died in 1989, his absolutist regime managed a peaceful transfer of power to his successor Khamenei, who is still the supreme leader to this day. Khamenei’s current regime sees the success of the 1979 revolution as a result of feeble resistance exercised by the Shah, which is why they continue to use extreme force in the face of protests. To do otherwise would only signal weakness in the face of growing opposition. However, even fear knows its limits, and the absence of change can lead people to pursue extreme measures to achieve a brighter future. In the past five years, there have been continuous protests against government policies. However, the current demonstrators have emerged stronger and more united than ever witnessed before. Even during the World Cup, a time of celebration and cultural community, Iranian crowds refused to celebrate their victories. Carrying signs that read “death to the dictator!’’ It is becoming increasingly clear that this time around, Iranians do not want reform; they want Khamenei gone.
Zan. Zandegi. Azadi
The people of Iran are fighting for democracy. Although many outsiders perceive these uprisings as anti-Islam or will use it to push forth their Islamophobic agenda, that is not the case with many of the Iranian people. What Iranians are seeking is the right to reclaim their national identity. These various cultural and ethnic identities existed before they were completely erased from public life. Most importantly, they are fighting for the right to practice personal autonomy. These strict laws date back to the 1980s, impact every aspect of Iranian lives, and are experienced by many as a political tool of oppression, especially for women and teen girls who are at the forefront of the crisis filling the streets with a captivating anthem – Zan Zandegi Azadi: Woman, Life, Freedom. The slogan represents the essence of the protests movement, which ties the liberty of the population at large to the freedom of women. Iran cannot be free and will not be free unless women are free.
The protestors have shown remarkable resilience despite fighting against a regime that responds with brutal torture. Women are cutting off their hair – a sign of beauty – as a form of protest that represents mourning and suffering at the loss of a loved one. Headscarves are being burnt in public squares, and tossing turbans of clerics has become a recent act of protest. It is becoming difficult to keep up with Iran's internal affairs due to the government shutting down internet platforms. The regime has literally cut off Iranians from the rest of the world, prompting many to rely on the rest of the world to advocate for them, filling up TikTok comment sections with the names of those who have been imprisoned and facing severe punishment by the corrupt justice system, in the hopes of justice.
Meanwhile, government officials have not stayed silent on the matter. Although Khamenei has been increasingly absent from public outings, he was seen giving a speech shortly after Mahsa died, and the protests broke out. He states that ‘’the incident that happened with the young girl’s death was a bitter incident, but the reaction of the public is not in any way justified’’. Additionally, Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s president (and Khamenei’s right hand), announced that ‘’anyone who blows on the fire of riots, agitation, and unrest, they are moving in the same direction of the enemy (aka the United States of America)’’. No matter how daunting their words are, it is a sign that the regime is aware of what these uprisings could mean for them. There are signs that the government is under pressure; news stating that the parliament and judiciary are reviewing the hijab laws are circulating the internet. However, many see this as a distraction mechanism, and as mentioned before, Iranians will not be satisfied with the reform of the veiling laws. The mandatory hijab is merely scratching the surface, and it seems as if the Islamic Regime is fighting an enemy it does not seem to understand or control. Protestors are determined and fueled by justified anger. And although it is too early to predict the endgame of this revolution, there is no turning back at this stage.
Violations of Fair Trial Rights
Bravery does not come without a cost. Since the beginning of September 2022, the Iranian authorities have arrested and pressed charges against thousands of Iranians involved in the nationwide protests. Matters have only worsened. Four young Iranians have been executed on capital charges without facing a fair trial. Currently, at least 14 Iranians face the death penalty risk. Amnesty International has documented the torture and violations of rights that took place under custody. Some of these torture-tainted “confessions” were broadcast on state media before their trials as evidence to issue convictions. They are urging the public to write an appeal to the Head of the judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, to quash all current convictions and death sentences stemming from the protests and ensure that anyone charged with a recognizable criminal offense is tried in proceedings that meet international fair trial standards without recourse to the death penalty. Iranians are relying on your support; click here