4 December 2022
By Aown Kazmi
It is estimated that more than 300 people have been killed, including at least 40 children, since the protests erupted in Iran three months ago. Thousands of others have been injured while 14,000 men, women and children have been arrested.
The protests were ignited by the death of Mahsa Amini a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died while in the custody of the morality police (Gasht-e-Ershad) enforcing strict mandatory hijab rules. The demonstrations against the injustice towards the young woman turned into a revolt from all sections of Iranian society and now pose one of the boldest challenges to the clerical leadership since the 1979 revolution.
Speaking to Voicepk, Mahsa Alimardani, a senior researcher on the MENA region at a freedom of expression organization ARTICLE19, explains the issue at hand and the grievances of the Iranian people that undercut these protests.
Decades of Grievances
As Mahsa Alimardani notes, it is the decades of mistreatment of women and the systematic fostering of inequality and suppression that have hit the country’s nerve.
“What we are seeing is four decades of grievances”
Beyond woman’s rights, other issues continue to linger underneath including economic dissatisfaction, corruption, inflation, poverty and excessive restraints on freedom of speech and expression. This coupled with the disenfranchisement of minorities and marginalized communities, and the disregard for human rights and personal liberties has fostered a deep resentment against the regime among the population.
“Protests are defined as a woman’s movement but have sparked grievances on all levels of human rights”
A Collective Trauma
The sight of millions of protesters across Iran may hint at a possible revolution but it is not the first time such demonstrations have taken place. Nation-wide protests have previously taken place in 1979, 2009 and 2019 admittedly though not to the scale that was seen in 2022.
Women took to the streets when the hijabs became mandatory following Ayatollah Khomeini’s establishment as the Supreme Leader of Iran in 1979. As Mahsa Alimardani points out, “Women were at the forefront of the revolution against Shah Pahlavi but also at the forefront to fight gender inequality under the new Islamic system”.
The initial decades of the Islamic Revolution, however, brought severe repression and persecution. The 1988 execution of approximately 25,000 – 30,000 political prisoners led to a ‘collective trauma’ in the State which subdued the revolt.
A Fearless Generation
Disconnected from the traumatic history of the country, the new generation according to Mahsa is more fearless when it comes to dealing with the impunity and brutality of the Iranian authorities. University students and even little school girls were seen protesting against the patriarchal authorities dictating their clothes, speech and lives. As Mahsa aptly observes,
“The young generation sees no future and no hope in the Islamic State”.
The fearlessness of the youth, however, has been met with a violent crackdown on schools and universities including at Sharif University where dozens of students were attacked and arrested. Harrowing crimes are being committed against young people with security forces being documented attacking and killing children.
Zan, Zindagi, Azadi
The slogan ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ still echoes on the streets of Iran three months after the protests began. Mahsa and other Iranian activists call on the international community to help the protesters in their demands for basic human rights.
Speaking to Pakistanis in particular, Mahsa Alimardani urges the Pakistan civil society to put pressure on the State of Pakistan to ensure Iran is held accountable and stops its human rights violations. As she observes, Pakistan State diplomats wield enormous power regionally and in international bodies, including the United Nations, and are an important trade partner with Iran.
As she reiterates, it is not a call for war or intervention but a responsibility of all states to not look away when the Islamic Republic is killing women and children.
Speaking on the future of Iran, Mahsa shares that her only hope is the brave young people who are protesting without caring if they will be killed. With tears in her eyes, she remarks that there is so much hope in that but also so much horror. Children shouldn’t have to die for this. Iran should stop killing its youth, stop killing its future.
Safeguarding women, life and freedom is a rallying cry for the protesters in Iran but it also a slogan that should resonate with everyone across the world who values basic human rights.
Death of the Morality Police
43 years after the Islamic Republic, Iran has now announced today that it will abolish the ‘morality police’ as stated by Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri. Remarkably, ‘zan, zindagi, azadi’ has brought the end of the morality police in Iran. One can only hope it brings an end to the injustice as well.
This article if part of Voicepk.net’s series 16 Day of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.