No matter where you saw it – aimlessly scrolling on TikTok, watching your feed of YouTube Shorts, or seeing the large headlines on the New York Times – the protests in Iran have reached the phones and front doors of wide audiences as the most recent fight against an authoritarian regime has risen. Following leaked cases of government violations of human and women rights, many Iranians took to the streets to reform their current discriminatory regime.
Before we begin, I am sure you are looking for some sort of context as to how these protests began. On September 16, 2022, Mahsa Amini, a 22 year-old woman in Iran was killed in a hospital in Tehran, the country’s capital. The Iranian Government’s religious morality police arrested her for not properly wearing her hijab (head covering) in accordance with government standards. While law enforcement reports claim that Amini had a heart attack at the police station after her arrest and consequently fell into a coma. This was refuted, however, by eyewitnesses who, according to the Guardian, “reported that Amini was beaten in the police van, an allegation the police deny.” The Guardian continues to say that this incident happened just weeks after Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, “ordered a crackdown on women’s rights and called for stricter enforcement of the country’s mandatory dress code” including strict head-covering laws.
The day that this information came out, along with leaked medical scans and secret reports that implied police brutality, a group of people in Amini’s hometown of Saqqez began peaceful demonstrations against what they saw as a clear act of gender discrimination-based laws working the curtains of a highly authoritative nation. Within hours, these protestors fanned the flames of what would later become an ongoing series of protests and actions of civil unrest throughout the provinces of Iran and the rest of the world. With thousands on the streets of 150 cities and 140 universities in all 31 provinces of Iran, the Iranian government attempted to retaliate by shutting down internet access and restricting social media usage, but the movement for women’s rights only grew stronger especially as women and children joined in.
Many politicians and elected officials have also tried to increase awareness about the atrocities occurring in Iran right now. Mahmoud Sadeghi, a former Member of Parliament and reformist thinker, pointed out that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is in agreement with the current restrictions, has had double standards on this issue. In a tweet, Sadeghi wrote, “What does the supreme leader, who rightfully denounced US police over the death of George Floyd, say about the Iranian police’s treatment of Mahsa Amini?”
This traction that Iranians have gained is very clearly paying off as, while the government has not made any movements to change their ways, the protestors’ spirit is being applauded by many influencers and politicians around the world, along with many normal citizens. In fact, during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, President Joe Biden clearly showed his solidarity to the demonstrators and encouraged them to “secure their basic rights.”
Furthermore, during their opening game of the Qatar 2022 World Cup against England on Monday, November 21, the Iranian National Football Team refused to sing the national anthem in solidarity with the protestors in their home country and their fans who showed great support with revolutionary slogans printed on flags and shirts. The Iranian government, however, threatened the team members and, according to Insider, told them that “their families would face “violence and torture” if they did not sing the national anthem, or if they protested at all.” Under the watch of Iranian security officials present at the field, the team then sang the anthem during their second match on November 25.
Now I’m sure you’re wondering how the government has been taking these protests and, as we lightly touched on in the previous paragraphs, they have been very serious about handling these acts of retaliation by whatever means necessary. Some of these approaches have been harsh and violent, nothing less than what is expected from a diabolical despot who cares for nothing more than personal power and dominance. For example, a chief Iranian general acknowledged that more than 300 people died, the first official death toll estimate provided by the Iranian government since September. However, many human rights organizations have predicted these numbers to be higher than Iran’s estimates. The U.S.-based group, Human Rights Activists, who have been closely following the protests find that “451 protesters and 60 security forces have been killed since the start of the unrest and that more than 18,000 people have been detained.”
Looking at one specific case, one that seems to stand out more than others, Ayatollah Khamenei’s niece calls on foreign governments to cut ties with the Iranian regime after she was arrested for supporting the protestors. Farideh Moradkhani, the Supreme Leader’s niece, is the daughter of Ali Tehrani, a cleric and longtime opposition figure who was married to the supreme leader’s sister Badri Hosseini Khamenei. Moradkhani has chosen to follow her father’s footsteps as an activist, opposing the views of her uncle. During her impactful video message, she said “What is urgently needed is not to support this regime that killed thousands of Iranians in four days in November 2019 while the world was only watching. Oh, free people, be with us and tell your governments to stop supporting this murderous and child-killing regime. This regime is not loyal to any of its religious principles and does not know any laws or rules except force and maintaining its power in any possible way.”
In a world that recently hit the milestone of 8 billion people in existence, it is essential to make our mark on history not as the ones who stood silent during a period of violent breaches of human rights and dangerous infringements of the freedom of speech, but rather as people who came together for the common cause of liberating half the population from authoritarian, male-dominated regimes who are figuratively and, in some cases, literally chaining and restricting the rights of women all around the world, deficiently justifying their unjustifiable actions by quoting archaic and obsolete diktats and non-representative statutes.