How Mahsa Amini’s Death Reignited a Movement in Iran
Mahsa Amini was visiting family in Tehran when Iran’s “morality police” arrested her for what authorities described as an “improper” hijab (HRW). They told Amini’s brother that she was being sent to an “educational and orientation class” and would later be released. Amini was taken to a hospital two hours later in a coma after multiple people, including her brother, reported hearing screaming outside the building and multiple women leaving the facility claimed, “They killed someone in there.” Mahsa Amini died three days later. She was 22. Since her death, people across Iran have taken to the streets in weeks-long protests against the killing and Iran’s mandatory hijab laws (Vox).
“The anger expressed on the streets has also shown how Iranians feel about the omnipresent so-called ‘morality police’ and compulsory veiling laws. It is high time for these discriminatory laws and the security forces enforcing them to be completely removed from Iranian society, for once and for all,” said Heba Morayef, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International (Amnesty International).
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The morality police are state agents that enforce the country’s compulsory veiling laws, which dictate that women uphold Islamic dress and modesty by properly concealing themselves in a headscarf and complete coverage of arms and legs. They arrest and prosecute women violating these discriminatory dress code laws. Those seen not properly wearing a hijab can be beaten, fined, or sentenced to 10 days to two months in prison (HRW, Amnesty International). Even instances where some strands of hair are shown or clothing is deemed too colorful or close-fitting can be grounds for persecution. The law and police prevent the bodily autonomy of women without fear of state-sanctioned violence and death. The morality police also monitor mixed-gender gatherings and alcohol consumption.
Mahsa Amini’s death, while not isolated, has become a catalyst for the current movement fighting against the oppression of women’s basic human rights in the country. Iranian women are dancing with their hair uncovered and burning their hijabs in the streets, while teens are removing their headscarves in classroom protests (The Guardian). “Women. Life. Freedom,” a slogan popularized by Kurdish female fighters, has become a rallying cry at demonstrations throughout the country.
In response, the government and security forces are blocking internet access to suppress the movement and international coverage (Vice). Silent sit-ins and class boycotts on college campuses, including Sharif University in the capital of Tehran, are being met with extreme police violence. During a parliamentary session, Iranian lawmakers chanted, “thank you, police,” as authorities nationwide used tear gas, metal pellets, and live ammunition to disperse demonstrations, arresting and killing protesters (The Guardian). At least 154 people were killed during the protests, including children (Iran Human Rights). However, the death toll is expected to be significantly higher.
On September 30, after a scheduled prayer, people gathered at a police station across from Zahedan’s main mosque in a “show of solidarity with nationwide protests and to demand accountability for the reported rape of a 15-year-old girl by a police commander in the province.” Security forces fired into the crowd killing at least 82 protesters and bystanders, in what would be referred to as “bloody Friday,” the deadliest day for the protests (Amnesty International).
The protests in Iran are not new. Iranian women have pushed back against the repressive government and discriminatory dress codes since their implementation in 1979. In December 2017, several women across Iran, known now as the “Girls of Revolution Street,” took off their headscarves to protest compulsory veiling laws before being arrested. The pushback is not exclusively against conservative ideals of female modesty. Anti-hijab regulations before the Islamic Republic were not good either. Back in the 1930s, women in Iran were prohibited from wearing the hijab by the existing regime. The police forcibly removed women’s hijabs, echoing contemporary xenophobic and discriminatory laws and views against wearing hijabs and other religious head coverings in countries like the U.S. and France (Time). Both are infringements on autonomy, religiously and bodily.
Prohibiting autonomy has meant that in their fight for freedom and choice, women and girls like 16-year-olds Sarina Esmaeilzadeh and Nika Shahkarami (CNN), who would have turned 17 before her death, and Mahsa Amini are being arrested, beaten, and murdered. We must send a clear message of solidarity by protesting and lending a voice to those being oppressed. Failure to do so ensures that many more will endure the same outcome.
“Without determined collective action by the international community, which needs to go beyond mere statements of condemnation, countless more face being killed, maimed, tortured, sexually assaulted or thrown behind bars solely for their participation in protests” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General (Amnesty International).
• Nationwide protests in Iran continue after the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody.
• Violation of mandatory veiling laws has resulted in women being arrested, jailed, and murdered.
• Such laws and regulations are oppressive and rob women and girls of their autonomy.