The Death of Mahsa Amini Ignited an Unprecedented Wave of Protests Across Iran
On the 16th of September 2022, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, died in the custody of Iran’s morality police following her arrest for improper wear of hijab. Both Mahsa and her brother were beaten at the time of her arrest.
Iran’s morality police routinely arbitrarily detain women who do not comply with their discriminatory and compulsory veiling laws. The death of Mahsa Amini was the powder keg moment that ignited this most recent uprising resulting in seven weeks of protests. This has been the most significant threat the theocratic Iranian regime has witnessed since the 1979 revolution.
It is becoming apparent that this isn’t about reform; it’s about outright regime change. In the eyes of the Islamic Republic, the compulsory hijab is not just a mere piece of cloth. The hijab is one of the critical pillars of the ideology of this regime.
Women are protesting on the streets, removing their hijabs and setting them on fire while cutting their hair in protest. Many have been arrested and sent to psychological re-education centres, beaten, raped, and murdered. The most unprecedented part of these protests is that they’ve been led by women. This shows how courageous Iranian women are in leading an extraordinary revolution.
Hundreds Have Been Brutally Murdered By Iranian Police After Masha Amini’s Death
The Islamic Republic does not allow its citizens the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. This right is guaranteed under Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Instead, the Islamic Republic kills protesters with batons and bullets. As of the 8th of November 2022, the death toll from the Islamic Republic’s crackdown on Iran’s 2022 protests increased to 304 people, including 41 children and 24 women. Repressive regimes lack transparency, so the actual number of protesters killed often goes vastly underreported.
A Long History of Women’s Resistance in Iran
Mahsa Amini’s death follows decades of women’s resistance in Iran. Women played a critical role in Iranian society by establishing women’s associations, joining protests and supporting strikes. This is the first time since the inception of the theocracy in 1979 that people openly and fearlessly oppose Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Challenging Iran’s supreme leader is one of the most significant revolutions in modern-day history.
Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iranian women launched massive protests after hearing rumours regarding a mandatory hijab mandate. These protests were influential as they postponed its enactment. However, the mandate was eventually instated in 1983. Women showed their strength in actively protesting against the regime.
Comparatively, in recent times the enormous bravery of women like Sepideh Rashno, Mahsa Amini and Nika Shakarami against Iran’s restrictions on women’s rights has sparked a catalyst for change. The Iranian authorities have consistently dealt with waves of mass protests. Including those held in November 2019, January 2020, July 2021, August 2021, November 2021 and May 2022, with a militarized response.
The Establishment of the “Woman-Life-Freedom” Movement
Following the death of Mahsa Amini, Iran has seen the rise of the “Women, Life, Freedom Movement”. This is a widespread protest that has now entered its fourth week. The movement’s slogan is a declaration of opposition to the Islamic Republic, a regime built on anti-woman, pro-martyrdom, and repressive ideologies.
Thousands of Iranians protest against the Islamic regime’s repressive treatment and continuous human rights violations. Iranians are speaking up against the regime carrying signs saying “Death to the dictator”. Young schoolgirls chanted, “we don’t want the Islamic Republic.” In recent weeks, Iranians have been actively fighting against security forces while tearing down billboards and burning pictures of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini.
Although the protests initially started over the frustration of the mandatory hijab, they developed into representing a much broader movement of overthrowing the entire regime. These restrictions have intensified under President Raisi, who took office in August 2021, leading to further tension among Iranians.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, Iran ranks 143 of 146 countries. The Islamic Republic exemplifies why countries with gender-discriminatory laws experience the most significant turmoil, compromising international peace and security.
The Islamic Republic Detained Thousands of Protesters and Activists
Thousands of protesters and human rights activists are now facing unfair trials, with some facing the risk of the death penalty for protesting against Mahsa Amini’s death.
Human Rights Watch has reported on security forces’ unlawful use of excessive or lethal force. Moreover, on October 31, 2022, the Tehran Province’s judiciary held that it had issued approximately 1,000 indictments against protesters and activists.
Furthermore, the Iranian authorities have subjected detainees to various forms of physical and psychological torture and other ill-treatment. Two female detainees arrested in Kurdistan reported that Iranian police tortured them with batons, electric shocks, sexual and verbal assault, and threats.
“Iran’s vicious security apparatus is using every tactic in its book, including lethal force against protesters, arresting and slandering human rights defenders and journalists, and sham trials to crush widespread dissent,”Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Iranian authorities have arrested 308 university students and 44 children. Security forces have targeted universities with excessive use of force and arbitrarily detained students.
According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency, the protests have reached 133 cities and 129 universities, as well as several secondary schools.
International Response to Iran’s Uprisings
Solidarity protests in support of Iranian women’s rights have erupted across Europe, the United States, and parts of the Middle East.
According to Amnesty International, more than one million people across 218 countries have signed their petition. This petition demanded an establishment of an independent UN mechanism to conduct an investigation in Iran. Therefore, this would ensure Iran faces the consequences for committing some of the most serious crimes listed under international law.
Failing to establish accountability encourages impunity, further emboldening the Iranian authorities to continue to intensify human rights violations. The United Nations Human Rights Council should urgently hold a special session on Iran.
Read also: The US and Israel are Weaponizing Iran Protests.
The protests over Mahsa’s death and the officials’ refusal to be held accountable have resulted in frustration and resentment over the political status quo. This has increased demands for democracy.
It takes immense courage and bravery for any woman to participate in this extraordinary revolution happening in Iran. Young girls risk arrest, school expulsion, and death when exercising their freedom of expression.
The world’s silence on this issue enables continued human rights abuses in Iran. The international community must stand up against the Islamic Republic and demand its adherence to binding human rights obligations.
Politics, money and states’ interests continue to come before human rights. The United Nations has repeatedly failed to adequately address human rights violations committed by authoritarian regimes. Despite this, we must rebuild our trust in this global governance mechanism. The United Nations intends to protect states regardless of geographical borders, race, religion, ethnicity, gender or social class.
This begs the question; will the United Nations stand with the women of Iran in upholding their human rights?