Pprotests intensified this week in iran over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was detained by the police after she was arrested for allegedly wearing her headscarf too loose. Amini died on September 16, three days after her arrest in Tehran, and many Iranians say she was killed by law enforcement. Protesters faced a brutal crackdown by the government, which deployed riot police, resulting in arrests, injuries and at least 17 deaths, according to state media.
Iranian authorities say Amini died of heart failure, but her family and protesters across Iran accuse the government of covering up her murder. International protests have expanded to express anger over a range of issues, not just the restrictions women face on hijabs and in Iran more generally, but also against the current regime. At an Iranian protesta street full of Iranians chanting “death to the oppressor, be it the Shah or the Supreme Leader!”
Here’s what you need to know:
Death of Mahsa Amini
Mahsa Amini, 22, was arrested on September 13 during a visit to Tehran by the notorious morality police, who enforce mandatory conservative Islamic behavior and dress. Hijabs are compulsory for all women in Iran to wear in public, regardless of religion or nationality. Amini was accused of violating the national headscarf law.
Iranian security forces said that upon her arrest, Amini was taken to a detention center where she was trained on the rules of wearing the hijab, and it was there that she collapsed of a heart attack. She died on September 16 in a hospital in Tehran.
Amini’s family disputes that account and said police rammed Amini into their patrol car en route to the arrest and that witnesses saw it. Amini’s father told Iranian news that he was not allowed to see her body at the hospital, but he caught a glimpse of her leg and was bruised. Reports indicate that her death was caused by a fractured skull from severe blows to the head, according to the Associated Press.
The United Nations published a statement on the recent rise of Iran’s morality police, who attack women for loose hijabs, and called for an independent investigation into Amini’s death.
“We strongly condemn the use of physical violence against women and the denial of fundamental human dignity in the enforcement of mandatory hijab policies enacted by state authorities,” panel of UN human rights experts said Thursday. “We call on the Iranian authorities to conduct an independent, impartial and swift investigation into Ms. Amini’s death, make the results of the investigation public and hold all perpetrators accountable.”
Yeganeh Mafaher, a 24-year-old Iranian-born activist who now lives in the U.S., told TIME that although conservative dress and hijab laws have been very strictly enforced since the 1979 revolution, these days some Iranians don’t accept it so serious. “Over the years you can even see it in pictures of Iran. Women started making the hijab looser and looser,” she says.
Maffacher says it is well known how easily bribed the police are for morale. “There have been many times when people in my family have given them $100 and they’ve looked the other way,” Maffacher says. However, she adds, Amini is Kurdish, and police attitudes vary based on religion, status, wealth, ethnicity and more. “It’s a lot like America.”
Protests are intensifying in Iran over Amini’s death
The protests began after Amini’s funeral on September 17 in her home region, Kurdistan Province in the country’s northwest, but quickly spread across Iran to as many as 80 cities and swelled in the capital Tehran. Iranian women began burning hijabs and cutting their hair in public and on social media as a means of solidarity with Amini. Crowds gathered in public squares in Tehran and shocking videos of police attacking peaceful protesters went viral. The protests also spread internationally.
“What you see are people who are fed up with a regime,” Mahmoud Amiri-Moghadam, director of the NGO Iran Human Rights, told TIME. “Not only do they take away people’s civil and political rights, but they also interfere with the most personal aspects of people’s lives, like what you wear.”
Eimiri-Moghadam says it is difficult to estimate how many Iranians are at the demonstrations, but it could be in the hundreds of thousands. He explains that people from different backgrounds are coming together to demand “fundamental rights” and that he has “never seen so much anger before”.
Activists stressed that the protests were not just about women’s rights or the lifting of hijab laws, but rather the harsh reality of life under an authoritarian regime. Mafaher still has many loved ones in Iran and says “they have been affected by this all their lives.”
“What breaks the hearts of a lot of Iranian people is that it’s somehow only about the feminist side and the hijab, when in reality all Iranian people are affected by this,” Mafaher adds. “Men fight for their sisters, their mothers and their daughters, and they don’t want that for them either.”
How the Iranian government reacted
The Iranian government insisted that Amini was not beaten by the police and that she died of a heart attack. Police released CCTV footage of Amini, who collapsed on the ground, but Amini’s family said she had no history of heart problems.
“Based on objective observations, interviews with witnesses, reports from relevant agencies and other investigations, there was no beating,” Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on the state television network. according to Iran Front Page.
Since the start of the protest, riot police have met the protesters with brutal force, armed with batons, tear gas, pistols and metal balls. Iran’s state media said at least 17 people had been killed in the past week, but human rights groups say the death toll is likely much higher, at least 30, according to some sources. In the Kurdish province, at least 600 people were arrested and 733 injured, according to Hengaw, a human rights organization.
Iran’s tightly regulated internet access was disrupted on Wednesday, leading to a almost complete shutdown of the internet use throughout the country, the Iranians said. Even before the blackout, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had strict censorship, blocking Iranians from using foreign media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
In 2019, during similar large-scale protests, the government shut down internet use for a week. Such suspensions make it difficult for people to organize protests, document abuses and share information. According to some estimates1,500 civilians were killed during the 2019 shutdown.
Against the backdrop of the anti-government outrage, a group of counter-protesters gathered in Tehran on Friday in support of the government, waving flags.
Iranian women are fighting for their rights
Women in Iran are increasingly defying the country’s modesty laws from 2014when social media the campaigns have begun who advocated for women to have the choice to be veiled or not. The enforcement of modesty also loosened under former president Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who condemned the morality police for being too aggressive, and in 2017 the head of the force said police would stop arresting women for indecent assaults. However, after President Ibrahim Raisi, an ultraconservative clergyman took office last year, the morality police pushed back.
“In the last 20 years, the women’s rights movement has grown,” says Amiri-Moghadam. “First they tried to make changes within that system. But you know, it’s not compatible with the Islamic Republic, their ideology, what they stand for, it’s not compatible with equality between men and women.
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