Women’s rights are progressing, but how much in Iran and at what cost? On September 13th, 2022, Mahsa Amini, also known as Jina, was detained by Iran’s morality police (‘guidance patrol’) for wearing her hijab ‘improperly’. It was reported the 22 year-old wore her hijab too loosely, which is a crime in Iran, as the country has strict laws on dressing modestly.
While being arrested, there were reports from numerous sources that Amini was beaten with a baton, and her head was repeatedly banged against the vehicle by the officers of the ‘morality police’.
She fell into a coma shortly after collapsing at Vozara Detention Centre, where she died three days later. Authorities say she died of natural causes, had prior health conditions and therefore suffered heart failure.
However, according to her family and local news broadcasters, the root cause of Amini’s death was that she was severely beaten by the morality police that had arrested her, and now there is speculation that the government is covering it up.
Morality police play an active role in Iran: their key responsibility in Iran is to enforce religious laws, such as strict rules on clothing, attitudes, and community mixing between men and women. The punishments can range from a simple warning to physical beatings, and the morality police have a lot of leeway in how they operate.
The death of Jina Amini has sparked outrage in Iran and around the world, prompting Iranian women to burn their headscarves and cut their hair in protest amid demands to strike down Iran’s draconian hijab law.
Amini’s death was significant and tragic, yet it has established a broader movement. It is essentially calling for an end to the laws and systems that oppress women and minorities in Iranian society.
Mass protests have spread across the country, and authorities have responded to most of them with violent and deadly force.
The conditions of Amini’s death have urged thousands of people to take to the streets in protest, and these demonstrations quickly became more widespread.
Now, people are calling for a regime change. Women want freedom and choice; they don’t want to live a life under the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is under the power of a supreme leader and its unelected councils.
Protestors know they won’t be heard or acknowledged for their rights to do what they want freely, and the only way for that is by protesting through the streets of Iran.
Starting in September 2022, marking one of the longest protests in Iran’s history, and as it continues, according to Reuters, there have now been 90,000 protestors, at least 1,160 injuries, and 500 deaths, many of which have been brutal executions.
Mina Richman, a singer/songwriter from Germany with Iranian roots, shares the protestors’ concerns. Her father is from Shiraz, Iran, and her mother is German. Mina has grown up in Germany her whole life but has visited Iran many times as a child and as a teenager with her parents. She is able to recognise the changes within Iran, how it has affected her, the people she knows, and Iranian citizens as a whole. She explains what she has done to recognize the protest and help others understand the regime’s disadvantages.
The Iranian regime has made it impossible for Mina to visit her family, her father’s home country. For Mina, she would be risking her life if she had entered Iran.
“I haven’t been back since I came out as bisexual. I openly display my queerness on my social media accounts and therefore cannot risk visiting Iran. I would risk being imprisoned and in the worst-case scenario sentenced to death,” Mina explains.
“Aside from my sexuality, I have been very vocal about their murderous wrongdoings during this revolution. The regime has limited my family’s freedom, forces little children to cover up so they will not provoke men. The regime sexualizes children, criminalizes peaceful protesters, tortures, rapes and murders innocent people. Every message of another death sentence, another suicide of girls much younger than I am, shakes me to my core and slowly makes me go numb because how else can one endure this?” Mina tells us.
“I have done too little. I try to use my platforms to spread awareness for what is happening in Iran. Say their names, share their stories. I try to further the platforms of many great journalists and activists in the Iranian diaspora, who have been so resilient, so strong, sleepless for days on end. It never feels like I do enough,” Mina admits.
Mina says she has attended all local protests, and she performed her song Baba Said, which she wrote within the first few days after Jina Amini’s death. “Unfortunately, having been injured – I broke my foot while climbing in the summer – I could never travel further and attend the bigger protests in Cologne or Berlin.
“What began as a call for the freedom to take off the hijab, became a protest criticising the economy, poverty, corruption and the suppression of the Kurdish communities in Iran, who have been targeted the most by the regime,” Mina told Artefact.
She wants everyone to know that the people in Iran have always protested against the rules. Women are legally not allowed to ride bikes when they could be seen by men. They still do it. People date, people meet in secret. Iran has a large LGBTQ+ community. Mina feel that the rest of the world needs to know that the Iranian population, especially the younger generations, just want a normal life.
“They are forbidden simple things like singing and dancing in public. Women and men are supposed to sit divided by gender in schools, universities, even at weddings. Imagine a curtain separating the men and women at your wedding party. Those who can get around this, are those who have the money to pay off the police,” she explained.
“Women must cover their legs, arms, hair, even when swimming in the ocean, unless there are visual barricades. Women cannot travel without their husband’s or father’s permission. They can’t ‘just leave’, which I have seen people recommend frequently on social media.”
For Mina, it’s clear what the young people of Iran need: “First and foremost, the people of Iran don’t want pity or saviours. They want solidarity.”
According to Time magazine, these protests have spread on a large scale. However, due to Iran’s strict regulation of access to the internet and other online resources, coverage has remained restricted in the nation. Given that, it has only encouraged Iranians to continue their protests, and essentially this ‘movement likely won’t die down soon.’
Iran is no longer the country it used to be; once a westernised state with much freedom and thought, a royal dynasty, and essentially just living with choice, the conditions for the population rapidly changed in 1979 when the monarchy was overthrown by the Iranian Revolution, and the installation of a religious authoritarian government.
Neda Toloui-Semnani is a US-born journalist and author who comes from an Iranian background. She has written in great detail her views on the protest and Iran itself, and recently published her memoir, They Said They Wanted Revolution: A Memoir Of My Parents.
This book explores Semnani parents, who travelled from the United States to Iran in 1979 to participate in the revolutionary movement. Yet, the emergence of the Islamic Republic distorted the promise of those initial euphoric days in Tehran. The new dictatorship brought Neda tremendous personal loss, cultural destruction, and worldwide isolation.
After her father was placed under arrest, Neda and her pregnant mother were forced to flee in a desperate manner.
Neda struggled for years with her parents’ decisions, but she finally understood that in order to go on, she needed to confront the past. Neda unravels decades of history in her journey for answers through in-depth reporting, journals, and interviews to produce a memoir that is awe-inspiring and compelling. This is someone who is of Iranian revolutionaries, activists, immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
“I think this regime has affected everyone of Iranian descent; there’s just no way it couldn’t,” Neda explains.
“It also stopped me from being able to safely or at least feel like I could go back to Iran. So, in lots of ways, it’s been sort of devastating and then not just for me, but for the diaspora.”
Neda writing her memoir was a big moment for her; it took almost a decade of her researching, interviewing, and reporting. This was in order for her to figure out what happened in lead up of the 1979 revolution, what happened in the aftermath, and how Iranians were left living in it.
“I have written several pieces since the 2022 uprising in September, so I worked really hard to spread awareness of what this regime has done,” she tells us.
“The overall protest are about, from my understanding, are supporting the movement inside of Iran, supporting women and others who want full rights, and bodily autonomy, religious autonomy, minority rights respected, they want freedom of movement, they want their history acknowledged, they don’t want to have to fear for their lives at every turn, they don’t want to live under an oppressive regime, which I think is the very least anyone could ask for,” Neda said.
“It is important to know that this isn’t about religion, this is not about Islam, this is about oppression, this is about making sure that more than half the population is symbolically and actually less than the others, by keeping groups down, it pushes other people to hold on to the power that they have, and I think what we are seeing now is a rejection of that old dynamic.”
Shervin Hajipour is the singer/songwriter of Baraye; it’s a song that is of great importance to the Mahsa Amini protest, in which Shervin used protest tweets in his lyrics. Starting with Baraye, written in support of the protest and the protestors.
Baraye has the meaning “for the sake of” or “because of” in Persian, which resonates with the current movement.
Hajipour managed to express the hopes and concerns of Iranians in this song, which became widespread all over social media platforms, collectively gaining millions of views, for its compassion and understanding for all women to have freedom and a normal life.
Iranians are banding together in force and proclaiming their desire to topple the Islamic Republic. The most significant result of this is that the Iranian people no longer perceive the state as an ultimate, indestructible force that they are unable to challenge.
Whatever happens with these demonstrations, the debate has shifted, and the page has been turned.
Farrah is a singer/songwriter based in London who was born in Leeds to an English/Irish mother and an Iranian father. She shares her life as a half-Iranian, as well as her thoughts on the protest and what she has contributed to it.
“I would visit Iran a lot growing up as all my Dad’s family were there. I have the most fond memories of being a child there, immersed in its insanely rich and beautiful culture. At such a young age, I was blissfully unaware of the regime, and probably too busy stuffing my cheeks with my Grandma’s cooking, dancing around with my aunties on the Persian carpets and playing with my cousins and our brightly coloured pet chicks bought from a man on the streets of Karaj: mine was bright pink and the most exciting gift I’d ever received,” Farrah recalls.
“As I got older, reality slowly started to hit me. My dad had rarely spoken to me about the regime and the reason he left in ’79 but things became more clear to me when I reached the age of 12 and had to put on a headscarf the second we entered Iranian airspace. Not only this, but I remember packing our suitcases and being told I couldn’t bring any of my favourite CDs or DVDs because western media was strictly censored. Realising that I could get in serious trouble for bringing my favourite Christina Aguilera album into Iran was confusing for me to say the least,” she said.
“Fast-forwarding to my twenties, the time when I began to release my own music as a proud British-Iranian female, I was warned to be careful during interviews and public speaking when it came to my experience of Iran and what I had learnt about the shackles the regime had placed upon the country I loved so dearly. I always made sure that I only spoke about my great experiences in Iran and never even considered getting political or touching on the subject of the regime because I was told if I did, I could be putting myself in serious danger if I ever travelled back there and these articles or videos were to come to the authorities attention,” Farrah told Artefact.
“As a female musician, learning that it’s illegal for women to sing in public there brought me so much anger and sadness but I would continuously bite my tongue as instructed because I always yearned to go back there and selfishly didn’t want to potentially sacrifice that.”
But she says all that has now changed: “Fast-forward again to September 2022 and my silence is over forever. For good. It’s time to use my privilege to free my brothers and sisters in Iran so they too can express themselves however they please.”
Protests have been highly pivotal in this movement, so we wanted know if Farrah has attended any protests, and what her views are on the broader issues that people are protesting for and why.
“Absolutely. The first protest I attended in September was overwhelmingly moving. Seeing fellow Iranians breaking their silence for the first time and fighting for the freedom of our people made my heart burst despite the fury at the circumstances that brought us together in the first place. It wasn’t just young women but people from all walks of life: old, young, female, male, non-binary, straight, queer and even other nationalities who have rightly identified that this isn’t just Iranian’s fight but humanity’s fight,” she told us.
“These particular protests were sparked after the death of Kurdish 22-year-old, Jina Mahsa Amini, who was brutally beaten in Iran last year by the ‘morality police’ for ‘improper hijab’, which resulted in her innocent life being cut far too short on the 16th of September. Jina Mahsa Amini’s death was symbolic to decades of repression, brutality, murder and endless discrimination based on gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religion at the hands of the barbaric regime.”
Farrah explains that there are still ways to help this protest and how others can get involved.
“It’s absolutely crucial that we continue to speak up for the people inside Iran. The regime cuts off signals inside Iran to stop contact to anyone outside of the country, which should come as no surprise when their whole existence glorifies total control and silencing,” Farrah said.
“Talk to your friends, family members and colleagues about what’s going on, and use your social media platforms, however big or small.
Farrah thinks non-Iranians should join the protests, attend events and follow the endless activists online who can keep people updated with what’s going on inside Iran seeing as the mainstream media isn’t doing this enough.
“The more attention we put on this, the more power we have to set our people free. Thousands of innocent protestors have been sentenced to death and we have seen so many talented, intelligent, innocent people, including children and teenagers, have their lives taken whilst fighting for their basic human rights and a better future,” Farrah said.
“However, we have also seen several death sentences called off thanks to global hashtags of individual’s names and drawing attention to their stories. Never underestimate the power of your voice and the power of the people. This isn’t an anti-Islam movement; this is a pro-choice movement, and until Iran is a safe space for everyone, no matter of their gender, religion, ethnicity or sexuality, we are not done, and we are not free,” she told us.
The killing of Jina Mahsa Amini turned out to be the ultimate tipping point for many Iranian citizens. These protests in Iran and throughout the world are intended to send a message for regime change, freedom in all spheres, and being who you truly are without fear.
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Featured image by Craig Melville on Unsplash