Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman, was arrested on Sept. 13 in Tehran for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law, which states that women are required to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting robes while in public. Three days after her arrest, the young woman died while in the custody of Iran’s morality police, who denied the rumors stating that the young woman suffered multiple blows to the head while in transportation to the detention facility. According to authorities, the woman died of a heart attack, but her family has cast doubt on this statement saying that Amini was in perfect health prior to her arrest and that they were denied access to her autopsy report. The family also revealed that they were persuaded into having her burial in the middle of the night and not to talk about her death publicly.
Iran’s morality police force prosecutes over 16 thousand women per year for violations ranging from wearing a hijab improperly in public to walking around with a male friend who is not her husband. Unrest about the morality police, as well as the Islamic Republic in general, has been building for years, and after the death of Amini, the civilians of Iran, as well as the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, are fed up.
On the Monday following Amini’s death, antigovernment protests led mostly by women broke out throughout Iran. These protests erupted in more than a dozen cities and university campuses around Tehran, with women taking their hijabs off, waving them in the air in defiance and burning them while chanting, “We will fight and take our country back!”
Police throughout the country have been attempting to shut down the raging protests by using guns, water cannons, batons and tear gas on protesters everywhere. These acts of violence have resulted in at least nine deaths, 85 people injured, including three children, and over 200 arrests throughout the country just in the following few days, with little sign that the protests will be dying down anytime soon.
Though these protests erupted in response to Amini’s death, they have grown into protests against the Iranian government and its oppressive rules. These protests, like those in America over the death of George Floyd, reflect years of unrest and building frustration throughout the country. Citizens have been struggling with economic hardship and governmental oppression for years, and the unfortunate death of Amini has finally caused the country to erupt into a large-scale protest that cannot be shut down as easily as in past attempts.
The protests taking place throughout Iran, although focusing on the abolition of the morality police and the use of violence in order to enforce religious rules, are really targeting the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as his son and potential successor, Mojtaba Khamenei. Along with the chanting of, “We will fight and take our country back,” there are also many chants, mainly in the northern city of Rasht, expressing “death to the oppressor, be it the shah or the supreme leader.” The supreme leader gave a brief statement on Saturday but spoke very quickly and gave very little information, which has just spurred on these growing chants.
The United States and the United Nations have joined in mourning as well as in the attempt to rid Iran of the morality police and their violent persecution of women, with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken telling Iran to “end its systemic persecution of women and to allow peaceful protest” instead of using violence to shut down the protests and public mourning going on throughout the nation. Along with Blinken, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour was scheduled to confront Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, to talk about the situation after he gave a brief statement on the floor of the UN. Unfortunately, Raisi refused to show up after Amanpour said she would not wear a hijab during their interview. Even major religious leaders throughout Iran have stated that the actions of the morality police leading up to the death of Amini were wrong and against what their religion stands for.
Despite the fact that the citizens, and especially the women of Iran, have a long fight ahead of them in order to rid their country and their home of systemic sexism and other issues plaguing their government, these protests raging throughout their country are an influential start to the growing demand for change in their nation.