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“They killed many people who weren’t my friends, but they were some people like me.”

Photo by Craig Melville for The Circular

The uproar for women’s rights and women’s freedom of expression in Iran in 2022 was remarkable. There were protests not only in Iran but also around the world. These were bold moves as Iran strictly monitors public opinion and expression. The Islamic Republic is one of the most dangerous places to express your opinion freely, ranking 177th out of 180 countries.

The interview was conducted in November 2022. The interviewee wishes to remain anonymous.

A young Iranian woman in the beginning of her 30s lives where the deadly incidence of Jina Mahsa Amini happened, which completely changed the history of the Islamic Rebulic – in Teheran, the capital of Iran. As she lives in the city centre, she experiences the protests against the regime up close every day.

Jina’s death in police custody through the moral police on 13 September 2022 was the advent of the current nationwide demonstrations. The situation had developed far beyond an uproar lead by women against Islamic rule of wearing a mandatory hijab. It was about protesting against the oppressive institution of the Islamic State itself, so more than the effects on women, ethnic and religious minorities as well as gender, social, economic and political problems.

She said after the very first day when the death of Mahsa was known, the protest started to become more serious than in the past.

“We used to organise protest activities sporadically in the past years”, she mentions, “we have been dissatisfied with the government for a long time.” 
@vicenews

The words you’re hearing were written by a female student who joined protests in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini. VICE World News reporter @Nabihah Parkar is reading the student’s words to protect her identity. #iran #tehran #iraniantiktok #iranprotests2022 #iranprotests #iranprotest #mahsaamini #mahsa_amini #studentprotest #womensrights #womenschoice #womensclothing #hijab #hijabitiktok

♬ original sound – VICE News

The recent crucial protests in Iran’s history since the establishment of the Islamic State in 1979 were in 2019, when the fuel prices dramatically increased. Despite all this, before the protests began in 2022, or “revolution” as she undoubtedly called it, she could outwardly lead a normal life with work, travel and even parties.

She joined three times a group of friends to protest on the streets which ended after half an hour in attacks with shotguns and tear gas by the regime. She is one of those people who are rather reserved when it comes to protests:

“I only participate to strengthen the population. They chant slogans against the government and often block the streets with municipal rubbish bins,” she says. 

And one of the slogans that was screamed throughout the world was “jin, jiyan, azadi“ – woman, life, freedom”. She adds that during the night people write anti-government slogans on the walls in her neighborhood.

Her first protest is still vivid in her memory because it turned into a kind of hide and seek game. After being sprayed with tear gas and hearing gunshots, she ran away and hid in a furniture store. She said that she was so stressed that the police would come to the store and arrest her and her friends. 

But her usual way of protesting is to drive with her car in the city to create traffic.

“The traffic blocks the way for the agents (meaning the police or other armed people in civilian clothes authorised by the regime) to attack the people“, she explains.

To avoid being recognised by the police, she has to conceal her identity as much as possible. She reported that she protests wearing a mask and sunglasses and is cautious of the regime’s fake accounts online.

In Iran freedom of press and opinion basically doesn’t exists according to reporters without borders because the regime tries to do everything to brutally mute any kinds of protest, be it through extortion, imprisonment, murder or public executions.

The recent report from the Human Rights Watch (HRW) to mark the anniversary of the protesters states that more than 500 protesters were killed and more than 22,000 individuals have been detained in some form by Iranian authorities (as of 15/09/23). According to HRW, this includes “releases, pardons or reduced sentences for those arrested, charged or detained”.

She hasn’t been in serious trouble so far, but her family and circle of friends experienced physical brutality like broken nose, bruised body or even a shoot in one’s foot. Yet she identifies herself with those people:

“They killed many people who weren’t my friends, but where some people like me.”

How did the support from outside of Iran look like?

Followed by her words: “Foreign countries should support us and recognise that the Islamic Republic as a dictatorial government and reject it.”

On 22 October 2022, around 80,000 people gathered in Berlin on the “Street of 17 June”. Many of the Iranian diaspora in Europe travelled to the capital for this protest action. Organised by Woman Life Freedom Collective to fight against human rights violation in Iran.

@1newsnz

Swedish lawmaker Abir Al-Sahlani cut her hair in the EU Parliament in solidarity with protesters in Iran. #fyp #iran #iranprotests2022 #mahsaamini #1newsnz #foryoupage

♬ original sound – 1News

And there were reactions from the West, for example the European Union constantly imposed new sanctions according to the many actions of human right violations. They were addressed against religious leaders, senior officials and state media employees. In particular, new sanctions were imposed on those responsible for the public execution of demonstrators.

The UN investigation, which was decided on 24 November 2022, was the first major international and independent decision against the crackdown since the protests began in September 2022.

Photo by Artin Bakhan for The Circular

The Iranian flag with a lion is often shown at protests abroad to symbolise resistance against the Islamic regime. The central symbol of a lion replaces the Islamic formula “Allāhu Akbar”, which means “God is great”. Displaying the Iranian flag with this symbol provokes the regime, as it is illegal in Iran.

She and many other Iranians are growing hopeful for freedom and a better Iran. She sees it as her duty and responsibility:

“We must try to get our rights. The blood of many young people has been shed.” 

Her demand is: “The Islamic Republic must go.” 

All Iranians want is freedom for a normal life, happiness and progress, she said.

Iranians seem to risk everything and have a will of steel. She says that people are getting braver every day and giving up their own lives for the sake of Iran’s freedom.

“People do not need ‘reforms‘ but a ‘revolution‘ and “the end of dictatorial rule”, so her impression. “We hope to have a democratic and secular government in the future,” she stressed, deliberately using the personal pronoun “we” as this is the longing of many. 

For she mentioned that people from different ethnic groups, all nations and cities are striving for freedom.

Iran’s history has changed, the direction is discernible, but radical change is not yet in sight. However, the young Iranian is certain of one thing and proclaims with firm conviction that the Islamic Republic will fall,

“not immediately, but definitely!”
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