A year ago, a 22-year-old girl died in Iran, by the hand of the morality police. She wasn’t the first and she wouldn’t have been the last. But she was the last straw.
Mahsa “Jina” Amini was killed on September 16, 2022, which marked the day that Iranian people decided they had endured enough under the Islamic regime, and they were ready to fight for their freedom.
The reason why the morality police detained and then beat to death the young woman was because she had worn her hijab incorrectly. Iran is an Islamic Republic founded in 1979 and ruled ever since by the leader Ali Khamenei and governed by the president Ebrahim Raisi since 2021. Iranian Islamic law mandates women to cover their heads with a headscarf, and legs and arms with long legged or sleeved clothes. Violators face severe punishments.
Mahsa's death symbolised all the women who had perished or would perish due to the regime. Iranian women, men, and people worldwide could no longer tolerate this. So, in the days following September 16 of last year, they started protesting for their freedom.
“So we have a saying: ‘How can one understand if a country has a good government?’”
Ahmad (fictitious name) an Iranian father of three in his 40s, shared his perspective. He had decided to leave Iran last year for the sake of his children's better future. Now he and two of his three kids are waiting for their visa to be processed in a town in Greater London, hoping to start a new life in a country where they can be free.
He repeated, "How can one understand if a country has a good government? You look at a woman's life." If women are happy, the country is good; if they're unhappy, change is necessary. This is not just about Mahsa Amini; more than 500 people have died.
He continued, “Let’s say you have a glass full of water, when you put one more drop, the water comes out. Mahsa Amini was that drop. This was the last chance for the government, now the people are angry, and they have a slogan: "Woman, Life, Freedom.”
The protests sparked by Ms. Amini's death saw men and women across the nation taking to the streets to reject the oppression they endured. However, following a violent government crackdown, the protests gradually subsided after a few months. During the crackdown, over 500 protesters were killed, and more than 22,000 were detained, including minors.
A year after Ms. Amini's death, demonstrations reignited on September 16, 2023, with businesses closing to join the protest against the regime.
Amir, a creative writing graduate from Iran living in London, shook his head in an interview: “My generation is really smart, they’re not going to accept any sort of religious fascism. This revolution has been in the building for a long time. This is a female led revolution and men like me support it. The goal is changing the government.”
On the same day, protests took place in major European and world capitals, including London, Rome, Paris, Dublin, and Istanbul. People from across the globe joined, voicing their demand for freedom with the slogan: "Jin, Jiyan, Azadi" (Woman, Life, Freedom).
Days after the anniversary of Mahsa's death, the Iranian government responded by passing a law to increase punishments for women who do not wear the headscarf in public, as reported by Sky News. This law also applies to businesses that serve these women and activists who protest against the regime. Punishments include up to 10 years in prison for organised offences.
The bill gained approval from 152 members out of the 290 in the Iranian parliament and awaits ratification by the Guardian Council, a clerical body serving as a constitutional watchdog. It would have a preliminary period of three years.
On Friday the 15th, police briefly detained Mahsa's father, Amjad Amini, and her brother, warning them against commemorating Mahsa's death with celebrations or risk being banished to a remote village, as reported by CNN.
In March 2023, the UN filed a report holding Iran accountable for crimes against humanity, including the deaths of 527 people, including 71 children, and the serious injury of hundreds of others since the protests began in September of the previous year. The morality police responsible for these atrocities, including Mahsa's death, have yet to face sentencing or accountability.
Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, denounced these actions as crimes against humanity, including murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, rape, sexual violence, and persecution. An international fact-finding mission may be initiated locally and independently to bring justice to the victims of these crimes.
Many Iranians are fleeing their country to seek asylum in others, but many others cannot leave. For example, Iranian boys turning 18 cannot apply for a passport without completing two years of mandatory military service.
Some time ago, in a London coffee shop, Ahmad revealed, “We didn’t come here for food or facilities, because we had all that in Iran. We came here for three things: security, freedom, and the vision of the future. Freedom is the most important one. We don’t have these three things in our country, instead we have strife, arguments, and fights, even if there are still people who seek freedom with an honourable life.” He shared that moving to London as refugees was challenging.
When asked what they thought about the current government, he said: “Politics and religion are separate, if the government mixes these two then dictatorship burns both.” He added, “Iranian people have always respected laws and religion but now they consider these laws as disrespecting religion.”
He concluded with hope for a better future, saying, "My country is very rich and beautiful. For 43 years, we have had some problems, but Iranian people can change their lives from sadness to happiness. I have good wishes for the people of the whole world to live together in friendship without war, without disease, without poverty, with freedom, most importantly freedom for Iranian women."
Cover picture: SAFIN HAMED/AFP/GI through billboard
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