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Mahsa Amini: A Symbol for Equal Rights in Iran

On Tuesday, September 13th, 2022, Mahsa Aminia and her family were visiting Tehran, Iran when she was detained by morality police and taken into custody. A few hours after arriving at the re-education center, she was taken to the hospital, unconscious, and fell into a coma. Three days later, on Friday, September 16th, Mahsa died. Her death sparked a nationwide movement for equal rights in Iran, with her image at the forefront. 

Since 2005, the morality police in Iran have patrolled the streets, ensuring everyone, especially women, follow the dress code and arresting those who do not. Detainees are taken into custody to police or re-education centers where they are lectured on modesty and Islam values. They are not released until they sign documents committing to following the dress code and someone brings them “acceptable” clothing. The dress code is based on the state’s interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, which dictates men and women must dress modestly, but it does not specify what modesty looks like. That is up to each patrol officer’s judgment. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, women are disproportionately more likely to be arrested by the morality police than men. Mahsa was detained for not wearing her hijab “properly.” 

According to the official statement by Tehran police, Mahsa suffered a heart attack while in police custody, even though her family has stated she was in good health with no history of heart conditions. According to eyewitness testimonies, Mahsa received several blows to the head when arriving at the re-education center. She tried asking for help, but it was denied until hours later, an experienced doctor was called and she was taken to a hospital. All while her brother waited outside for her release. 

Rather than becoming another statistic, Mahsa has become a martyr: the image of a social movement where Iranians demand equality and call for a change in government. In the days since her death, thousands of people have rallied in the streets of Iran, protesting the government and strict dress codes. They demand justice, carrying pictures of her while chanting “I kill anyone who killed my sister,” women protest the compulsory hijab law by burning their own, and others across the world shave their heads in solidarity with Mahsa and the countless women who suffer at the hands of the morality police (The Veil of Injustice is a great article that explains Iran’s hijab culture and history). 

Alongside their demands for equality, Iranian protesters are calling for a change in their government. Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s far-right president, follows anti-western ideology and has allowed US sanctions to perpetuate, which result in ever-increasing levels of inflation. In response, the Iranian government has issued an internet blackout, limiting access to the internet in hopes of reducing social media’s involvement in the continuation and proliferation of riots. However, this has increased the scrutiny of the world’s watchful eye. So much so, that the United Nations have demanded an investigation of Mahsa’s death, the catalyst of the social outbreak. 

Raisi has responded to the criticism by referencing police brutality in Western countries like the US and UK. He is attempting to downplay Mahsa’s death by normalizing violence at the hands of police, stating how it isn’t a unique case, nor is Iran the only place in which things like these happen. And while there is some truth to what he says, that does not mean that Mahsa’s death is any less important, or that life should go on business as usual. Violence at the hands of police is an epidemic that needs to be dealt with, not only in Iran but in the whole world. 

A parallel can be drawn between Mahsa’s death this September and that of George Floyd in May of 2020. Both suffered violent deaths that received major traction on social media. They essentially went viral and brought the world’s attention to a country’s underlying issues. George Floyd’s death, along with Breyona Taylor’s and Elijah McClain’s, sparked a nationwide movement across the US against systemic racism. He became the image of the BLM movement, just as Mahsa has become the image for women’s rights in Iran. They became martyrs of social movements: a legacy that shouldn’t have been theirs. 

Mahsa Amini was not the first woman to be detained by the morality police, nor will she be the last—not while they still patrol the streets—but she has given women across the world the drive to fight for their rights. Her death, while it never should have happened, has started a movement that will change the course of history. Whether it happens tomorrow or three generations from now, her name will not be forgotten.

Mariana Bastias

CU Boulder '25

Mariana is an aspiring novelist and poet studying English and Psychology, with a minor in Business. Her favorite book is "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and her favorite drink is an earl gray latte. When she isn't writing, she's baking or watching movies.
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