Some of the world’s most reputable media outlets like The New York Times, Reuters, and BBC are flooded with news headlines, analytical articles, and exclusive images depicting the brave acts of resistance of Iranian women and supporters around the world standing in solidarity. These stories shine a light on the long-lasting issues of social equality and the violation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Protests broke out in at least 50 Iranian cities and towns following the death of a young woman while in custody of the morality police, which is tasked with enforcing religious observance (otherwise viewed as regulations) and public morality. 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was detained in September for not covering her hair with the hijab, an Islamic headscarf, mandatory for Iranian women since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The morality police denied any accusation of mistreatment, reporting that Amini died of a heart attack. However, Amini’s family noted that there is no familial history of heart issues, calling into question the police’s announcements. Immediately after the death of Mahsa on September 16, 2022, a series of ongoing protests and civil unrest erupted.
The current events are not a rare occurrence for Iran, a country rich in its history of protests since its establishment in 1979. Examples include protests against the mistreatment of opposition activists by the Iranian authorities in March 2011. However, the security forces fired teargas, tampering down civil unrest. Another example of anti-government demonstrations took place in 2017, when women took off their headscarves in an act of resistance to criticize the morality police over their treatment of young women. This closely resembles the modern protests inciting in September 2022. Nevertheless, a key distinguisher of this year’s movements is the scale and unity of the protests, led by the determined youth, establishing itself as a beacon of hope for systematic change in Iran.
Contrary to popular belief, the strength of the movement, according to The L.A. Times, is its unorganized and leaderless nature, reflecting expressions of discontent nationwide. Iranians from different ethnic and religious backgrounds are united with the common demand for social justice, while being met with restrictions imposed on women. The vision is shared among Iran’s diverse cities, spreading from Amini’s Kurdish hometown, Arab and Baluchi towns, Azeri Turkish cities, and so on. Yearly protests in Iran centered around economic equality and the growing environmental crisis have come to reveal an oppressive regime unwilling to take criticism and protect the rights of the citizens. On the contrary, the regime has warned Iranians against protests and leading to chaos. Nonetheless, this wall of fear has begun to crumble in recent weeks, with the new generation taking the lead in the largest protests since the 2009 elections in Iran.
With the police actively engaged in silencing the voices of activists with batons, tear gas, and bullets, dozens have been killed and many more arrested. But the movement persists with youth on the front lines in the face of adversity. A video surfaced of students replacing classroom images of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei with the movement’s slogan: Woman, Life, Freedom. High school girls are taking off their hijabs, supporting the fight for women’s rights and the broader hope for freedom and democracy. University students in Tehran have gone on strikes holding protests, demanding an investigation into the case as well as the dismantling of the morality police. In response, the Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, promised to pursue the case in a phone call with Amini’s family, with the judiciary launching a probe.
It is time Iranians citizens decide their own faith guided by their principles of freedom, equality, and justice. It is the responsibility of the international community to support Iranians by opening pathways for financial and education exchange, granting Iran access to the world.
By Ani Bayramyan