world in focus
September 13, 2022
Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish Iranian woman travels with her family from Saqqez to Tehran. Saqqez is located 468 kilometres on the north-western side of Iran’s capital Tehran, in the Saqqez County of the Kurdistan Province. Mahsa Amini just turned 22 on July 22, 2022. The number 22 played an integral role in her life and death, as well as for her family and country.
Amini was out with her family on September 13, when she found herself detained by the Moral Police – the guidance patrols or Gasht-e-Ershad - and beaten up for ‘wearing hijab too loosely’. According to media reports, some hair were visible under her headscarf for which she was detained and beaten. Amini was taken in a van to the detention centre, where, according to witnesses, she fell unconscious as she came out of the van.
September 16, 2022
Mahsa Amini was brought to the hospital on September 13, after many precious hours were wasted despite other women detainees requesting the officials to help her. Doctors were unable to revive her as she fell into a coma. Three days after her detention, 22-year-old Mahsa died on September 16. Reportedly, the authorities said a fatal heart attack caused Mahsa’s death. While her family says she was healthy, with no heart problems. Media reported her father saying that his daughter had never had a serious illness in her short life. Furthermore, the family said Mahsa was in a coma due to the head injuries sustained when the moral police hit and banged her head several times. According to Iran International - “doctors said all medical signs pointed to severe blows to Mahsa’s head that fractured her skull, leading to a coma, and that they could not do anything to save her.”
Protests erupt following Mahsa’s death
News of her death spread like wildfire and sparked a nationwide outcry. Thousands of women came out on the streets, taking off their hijabs and burning them. Emotions were high as people began joining the protest – including men.
Since September 16, protests have spread to over more than 40 cities across Iran; more than 1200 people have been arrested and more than 30 people have died.
Protesters made “calls for accountability” which “have turned into demands for more rights and freedoms, especially for women who for decades since the 1979 Islamic Revolution have faced discrimination and severe restrictions on their rights.” People who have seen the 1979 Revolution, claim that this is the “biggest demonstration since the revolution”.
Public anger rising
The first protests erupted after Mahsa Amini’s funeral, as women were filmed taking their headscarves off and waving them in the air, shouting “death to the dictator”. Similar scenes were seen at universities around Tehran, as students came out protesting, which were mirrored in other cities across the country.
September 24 - 26, 2022
The media reported battles between Iranian police and anti-government protesters in Tehran – ‘the worst unrest was seen in the country for many years’.
The protest had reached 80 other cities and towns across the country by September 24. Authorities announced the arrest of 739 people, including 60 women from the neighbouring Guilan province. On September 25, Arab News reported that “450 protesters had been arrested in the Northern Province. At least 41 people have died since the unrest began”. And that “Protests…spread to almost all of Iran’s 31 provinces and urban cities.” Iran’s own state media reported on September 26, that authorities in a northern Iran province had arrested 450 people.
Protests and social media
Social media also played an important role to catapult the protest, as the protests spread simultaneously across the virtual and real worlds. Women used social media to protest against the hijab by uploading content of themselves taking off their headscarves, some even cutting their hair and burning the hijab. To curb the protests, the authorities tried to restrict internet but that did not help douse the anger on Amini’s death.
This is not the first time Irani women have used social media to protest. In 2017, Masih Alinejad began a movement protesting against the compulsory wearing of the hijab in Iran. Thousands of women joined her online campaign which later spread to the real world, as demonstrations were organised on the streets of Iran.
Since 2017, more than 35 women protesters were arrested in Tehran and the police had warned women not to participate in demonstrations against the hijab or they could be imprisoned for 10 years. Five years later, the women protesters have the support of men who are enraged by the death of Mahsa Amini.
Iranian law is based on the country’s interpretation of Sharia. Under this law, women are obliged to cover their hair with a hijab and wear loose, long clothing.
After Shah’s era ended with his exile in 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the revolution passed the law that hijabs would be ‘mandatory for all women in their workplace’.
However, Ayatollah’s speech didn’t seem to have the desired impact as the next day more than 100,000 people, mostly women, came out onto the streets to protest. Incidentally, it was March 8 – International Women’s Day. Women kept wavering from the right way to wear the hijab and kept wearing the hijab in different ways – they kept protesting silently.
So finally in 1983, the Iranian Parliament took serious steps to ensure that the law was followed properly. Now women who did not cover their hair in public would be punished with 74 lashes. Later, 60 days in prison were also added to the lashes.
What is the Moral Police?
The moral police or Gasht-e-Ershad is a unit of Iran police that is tasked to enforce the laws on the proper Islamic dress code in public. In 2003, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected as mayor of Tehran, and the Gasht-e-Ershad was established, which would enforce the dress code.
The government won’t tolerate
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned protestors (Sept 22, 2022, Reuters) that ‘acts of chaos’ would not be tolerated. President Raisi said, while speaking at a news conference, that he had ordered an investigation into the case of Mahsa Amini who was arrested for wearing ‘unsuitable attire’.
The article was last updated on 29.9.2022