Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old young woman, was arrested due to hijab laws and only three days later on Sept. 16, died. Amini was arrested by the Gasht-e Ershad also known as the “morality police.” Their purpose is to ensure that women and (although the laws differ) men follow hijab rules which consist of discouraging cosmetics and covering their hair and body. Her death has acted as a spark creating a wildfire for protestors angry at the Iranian regime.
Protests first began when photographs and news of Mahsa Amini in a coma were leaked out to the public. Shortly after she was declared dead, she was said to be suffering from underlying medical conditions which contributed to her cause of death: a heart attack, but her father denies both claims. Activist groups and her father claim that Mahsa Amini was beaten to death while in custody. The Iranian authorities have denied that she was beaten. They have also denied having body cam footage of her arrest. However, they have released edited CCTV footage showing her collapsed at a re-education center and being placed in an ambulance. Mr. Amini had repeatedly asked to view his daughter’s body but was refused and in a moment of brevity was able to see his daughter’s bruised feet. He along with countless Iranian women and men angry at the regime and its abuse of power and restrictive policies have begun protests from which several individuals have suffered injuries and death.
Women outraged have protested by cutting their hair and setting fire to their hijabs calling for an end to these restrictive policies which force them to express Islam according to Iran’s guidelines. These protests have now unfurled to express several other grievances including issues with the economy and impunity of the government. In response to these protests, the government has limited or slowed access to the internet in hopes of restricting the spread of information.
Mahsa Amini’s death acted as a catalyst for many to express their frustration with ongoing problems within the country. As early as 2010, merchants protested against government plans to raise business taxes. In 2011, authorities responded to antigovernment demonstrators by tear gassing thousands. Economic frustration lead to protests again in 2019 due to inflation, high unemployment rates and government repression which lead to the deaths of at least 304 people. Iran has experienced many clashes between government officials and citizens over demonstrations since 2010. The government failed to address these issues and now citizens’ anger has been sparked and motivated to protest once again. As of Sept. 22, at least 17 people have been killed during these protests with others saying the number is higher, but many are unable to verify the numbers of those injured and those killed.
The Iranian government has responded to these most recent demonstrations by outlawing the attendance of protests and stating that prosecution will ensue for those who take part. They have also placed restrictions on WhatsApp, an app commonly used by other countries as a way of communication, as well as Instagram and similar apps. Pro-government protests have also recently begun blaming the civil unrest on westernization, America, and Israel. Mahsa Amini’s death has become more than a symbol of abuse within the government over restrictive policies. Her death now has transcended to include grievances that were left unaddressed in the past and only worsened with time.