- Helina Shepard
History-in-the-making: Iranians fighting for freedom
September 13, 2022 was a momentous day in Tehran, Iran’s capital. It was on this day that a 22-year-old woman, by the name of Mahsa Amini, was arrested by the state’s ‘morality police’ after being caught wearing her hijab “improperly”. ‘Improperly’, signifying that it was not covering all of the hair on her head—and it was for this simple fact that Mahsa Amini was killed three days later.
While the circumstances of the events following her arrest are notably obscure, there has certainly been speculation of the general public that Iran’s law enforcement is responsible for the death of the young woman.
The morality police are prominent symbols of oppression in Iran. This division of law enforcement is responsible for ensuring the country’s religious morals and conformist beliefs—imposing dress codes, restricting freedom of movement and enforcing laws against homosexuals. These absurd government restrictions have suppressed people’s abilities to express themselves. Enforcement of these regulations has been taken to the extreme and, inevitably, people will resist.
Iran has a history of mass protests. The ones today are happening nation-wide, and the government is retaliating violently in an attempt to quell them. Crowds have been met by brutal riot police armed with batons, tear gas and guns. According to the United Nations, as many as 14,000 people—men, women and children—have been arrested. Out of a staggering 90,000 protesters, at least 367 have died since the start of these public demonstrations on September 16— 23 of which were children.
Amini is not the first to have been subjected to brutal treatment from Iran’s law enforcement, nor will she be the last. Acts of defiance by women in Iran and other countries throughout the Middle-East, namely, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, have become significantly more common since 2014. Adolescent Iranian girls are at the forefront of the demonstrations this year; the average age being 15, according to an Islamic Revolutionary guard Corps (IRGC) commander. High school girls have attended these mass movements across the country, bravely casting their hijabs off their heads in support of Mahsa Amini and, consequently, they have had to stand up against brutal crackdowns by security forces. Two girls, 16-year-old Nika Shakarami and 17-year-old Sarina Esmailzadeh were allegedly killed by the morality police after posting videos on social media promoting the strikes. Their deaths only sparked a new flame in the protests, whose participants continue to refuse to submit to injustice.
At the same time, these mass demonstrations are not all about Amini’s death—her death only intensified the anger already sweltering inside the majority of the population.
Rather, waves of protests have broken out over the last decades, fueled by public rage over the unacceptable qualities of life that people are presented with, as a result of being governed by an authoritarian regime. Access to adequate water and electricity is sporadic. Media publications are censored and access to international news is strictly regulated. People are denied the right to identify themselves with multiple nationalities, and according to the 2018 Report on Religious Freedom for Iran by the State Department, religious minorities such as Christians, Sunni Muslims and Baha'is have been, and are still being harassed and assaulted by the regime to this day. Islamic teachings have become twisted and warped over centuries by authoritarian leaders for their own benefit and for the consolidation of power through fear and intimidation.
Both men and women have been subject to police brutality for decades, losing partners, family and children. They are simply advocating the basic rights and freedoms that all humans should be entitled to.
People across the world are showing support to the men and women in Iran fighting for reforms. Foreign leaders are giving speeches and celebrities are spreading the message on social media platforms. Footage displays crowds of men and women hosting rallies, chanting and shaving their hair, not only to stand in solidarity with Iranians, but as part of a wider movement to inspire others internationally to stand up for their rights to fair treatment by those in power. It is a movement emphasizing the cessation of exempting certain groups of people from the rule of law, and imposing it more harshly on others, based on measures of societal status—whether it be gender, ethnicity, education, religion or wealth.
It is a movement that will hopefully put an end to discrimination and prejudice amongst people all over the world.