The death of Masha Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman by the so-called Morality Police has sparked a showdown of dissent on Iran’s streets since authorities crushed protests against a rise in gasoline prices in 2019.
The girl was on a family trip and arrived in Teheran, the capital of Iran. On her arrival at a metro station, the notorious Morality Police (Gasht-e Ershad) detained her for inappropriately wearing a hijab (headscarf), a strict dress code for women in the public.
She was dragged to a re-education detention centre and tortured for non-compliance with the dress code and later died from head injuries in a hospital.
Her guardians refused to accept that she died of a heart attack. They insist that she succumbed to a painful death at the hands of Islamic vigilantes.
The unprecedented anger in the streets is demanding #JusticeForMashaAmini, which has turned against the autocratic Islamic clerical establishment in Iran, since 1979.
In the third week, the demonstrations have spread to nearly 100 cities and towns since September 13 questioning the clergy’s legitimacy in power, which is indeed a serious challenge to Islamic Iran.
Besides justice for Kurdish woman, the angry #IranProtests are demanding an end to the Islamic Republic, which ruled Iran with an ‘iron hand’ blended with Islamic jargon, strict Sharia laws and intolerance to critics and dissidents.
Women in public are removing their hijab (chador in Farsi) and collectively burning in a bonfire, while many are cutting their hair in defiance of the Ayatollah’s self-composed Islamic laws.
Determined, angry and, above all, courageous in midst of the #WomenLifeFreedom campaign communicates with everyone. The women in Iran are at the forefront of the current protests.
Earlier, women have played a key role in all the protest movements of the past 40 years, including the Green Movement of 2009 and the last major nationwide protests in November 2019, which went on for several weeks before being brutally suppressed.
Like previous street protests, the barbarian Basij snipers have been deployed on rooftops to shoot and kill angry protesters.
A bitter critic of the Mullahs in Iran, the feminist journalist in exile Masih Alinejad in a tweet says: The women – of Iran are risking their lives for basic freedoms and they need the support of the international community.
In the streets of Iran, they are calling for the end of the Islamic clerical establishment’s more than four decades in power.
There is no leadership structure for the #IranProtests. ‘Generation Z’ is leading protests in the streets and online, which gave momentum to oust Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran since 1989.
Rights groups have reported the arrest of hundreds of young people, and students. Also academics, celebrities, civil society activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, litterateurs, movie stars, singers, poets, sportsmen, and at least a score of journalists.
In fact, the massive protests sparked by a young Iranian woman’s death have shaken the foundations of the Islamic Republic.
Meanwhile, nobody believes that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will conduct an impartial probe and that the perpetrators would be punished.
He, however, pledged to “deal decisively” with the protests and said “rioting” will not be tolerated.
Iran’s restrictive clothing laws – are rejected by a lot of Iranians. There is hardly a single woman in Iran who does not have a humiliating and violent experience with the rogue Gasht-e Ershad.
At this time, demonstrators are openly and collectively desecrating the religious symbol of the Islamic Republic.
Fury of the riot police and Basij [para-military force] crackdown on anti-government protesters has further sparked anger in the streets. The number of dead, wounded and detained protesters is rising alarmingly, rights groups claimed.
The Basij has a history of being ruthless with critics and opposition to the regime. All over the country, they are raiding the homes of thousands and dragging out critics active on social media or any dissidents who participated in the street agitations.
In absence of independent news organisations inside Iran, the protesters are dependent on social media. The activists are using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube as a tool to vent their grievances against the Mullahs.
Nonetheless, the social media campaign further angered the regime. Quickly the authorities imposed a blackout of the internet, which severely hampered daily e-businesses.
Isik Mater from NetBlocks told the BBC: “The internet is one of the biggest tools that the Iranian authorities have got in their hands when unrest breaks out on the streets.”
Apolitical Amini’s death has unleashed anger over issues including personal freedoms and economic challenges in Iran.
The countrywide riots were in response to the bleak economic situation, runaway inflation and horrendously high gas prices.
Iran’s economic crisis, coupled with the Western sanctions, explains the popular outrage which is swiftly sparked by the latest public antagonism.
Moreover, the elimination of subsidies, unemployment, chronic inflation, and the government’s fiscal deficit enraged the general public.
With a poor global image of the country, built over four decades on appalling human rights records, and proxy wars in the Middle East, including Yemen, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, it would be difficult for the Ayatollahs to get international sympathy against the protest.
The veiling of women is one of its most important foundations. The clerical rulers cannot and will not compromise on the pressing issue — because abolishing the obligation to wear the hijab would be tantamount to the beginning of the end for the Islamic Republic.
First published in The News Times, 8 October 2022
Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Twitter @saleemsamad