Twenty-two-year-old Mahsa (Zhina) Amini's family trip to the Iranian capital turned out to be her last.
While in Tehran, Mahsa Amini was "detained" by the morality police allegedly for wearing the hijab (headscarf) in an "improper" way. Then, on September 16, she was pronounced dead. According to the authorities, she died of a heart attack while in custody, receiving "instruction" on hijab rules. Reports suggest that she fell into a coma three days before her death. Her family and human rights activists allege that she was beaten to death.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, a country with strict dress codes and a hyper-vigilant morality police (known officially as Gasht-e-Ershad or Guidance Patrol), such detentions are nothing new. Transgressions are punished. Public hangings, stoning, amputations, and blinding are some barbaric punishments still permitted and carried out in the Islamic State. The regime rules with an iron fist, and the Guidance Patrol and the Revolutionary Guards, a hardline military force, enforce its will.
But, an innocent woman's death at the hands of the moral police seems to have been the tipping point for a nation crumbling under the right-wing Islamic state and international sanctions. The country erupted in protests at the needless and shocking death of Ms. Mahsa Amini.
The regime reacted in the expected fashion. The Revolutionary Guards were sent to crush the protests. Stern warnings to desist were issued. Hundreds were arrested. They fired at peaceful, unarmed protestors causing fatalities. Some reports suggest that thirty-six deaths were recorded in the first week alone. Yet, the country refuses to back down.
More than two months after Ms. Amini's death, Iranians are out on the streets across the country. Though Tehran has not released any official numbers, the UN human rights chief, Volker Turk, said that "14,000 had been arrested, including children." The death toll is said to be over four hundred, including sixty children. Recently, the Iranian court confirmed that five individuals had been handed the death penalty for participating in the protests.
However, Iranians seem undeterred. From demanding justice for the young woman, the call has turned to "Death to the Islamic Republic." Iranians have had enough. This regime is no longer the "government of the learned" that the 1979 revolution intended to rule the people. The Shia clergy that came to power after the reviled monarchy was overthrown have eroded the democratic rights of the people and evolved into a dictatorship. In the name of Islam, they propagate conservatism and justify social repression.
The good of the people nor lofty religious legacy no longer guides the ruling clergy. As is evident with the regime's pursuit of nuclear ambitions, despite the misery brought by international sanctions, power is their sole objective.
The Shia majority has been accused of oppressing the Sunni and Kurdish minorities. Many Sunni clerics have openly supported the ongoing protests and called for reform and representation. But, it is unlikely that the right-wing, hardline regime will listen – to the citizens or the clerics. Their modus operandi has been and remains repression.
But, nine weeks on, demonstrations rage. Factory workers are striking, showing solidarity. Women and children refuse to obey the cleric's decrees. Even the prospect of death and torture does not daunt those demanding to be heard. Iranians are willing to sacrifice much for a modicum of rights and freedom.
Now, the UN Human Rights Council has taken note of the situation. A fact-finding mission will soon be established to investigate Iran's crackdown on the anti-government protests. It remains to be seen whether Tehran will cooperate with the UN mission and grant access to detention centers, as has been sought.
However Iran may respond, the attempt to hold the regime accountable for its treatment of the demonstrators and protestors is a welcome move. For it is unfathomable that, in 2022, a twenty-two-year-old woman could die, at the hands of state authorities, for wearing a headscarf "improperly."
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