The anger unleashed after the murder of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman arrested for improperly wearing a veil, continues to sweep the streets of Iran. From Iranian Kurdistan - Amini's place of origin - protests led by women have spread and intensified in different parts of the country to the cry of "justice, freedom and no to the compulsory hijab".
Protesters also expressed their rejection of the authorities by chanting "death to the dictator", in reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as "Mojtaba, we hope you die before you become the Supreme Leader".
After years of campaigning against forced hijab, now Iranian women revolution is gaining momentum.— Masih Alinejad ?️ (@AlinejadMasih) September 20, 2022
Across Iran women remove their hijab & burn their headscarves in public.
Compulsory hijab is the main pillar of a gender apartheid regime.#Mahsa_Amini is a symbol of resistance. pic.twitter.com/3YHq7sZheZ
As a sign of this rejection of the country's misogynistic laws, Iranian women have removed their veils - something forbidden in the country - and even set them on fire. "The mandatory hijab is the main pillar of a gender apartheid regime," writes Iranian activist Masih Alinejad on Twitter.
The flames have spread to two police stations, a bank and several security force vehicles. "We will die, but we will take back Iran," protesters shouted near the fire, according to a video posted on social media. According to local media, the death toll has risen to 17, including three members of the Basich paramilitary force - part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard - who were reportedly stabbed by protesters.
In addition to the deaths, hundreds have been injured. Security forces respond violently to the protests, using tear gas and water cannons. "They were firing tear gas, our eyes were burning. We were trying to run away, but they cornered me and beat me while calling me a prostitute," a woman from Rasht told the BBC. Amnesty International has reported that police also use metal pellets against protesters.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard has called on the Iranian judiciary to prosecute "those who spread false news and rumours" about Amini's death. The authorities maintain that the 22-year-old died a natural death. The government opted to restrict access to the internet, blocking social networks such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
While President Raisi held up Qasem Soleimani’s photo in adulation at #UNGA in New York, the Iranian people tore his banner down in Iran.— Nazanin Boniadi (@NazaninBoniadi) September 22, 2022
Raisi and the Islamic Republic do not represent the Iranian people. #IranProtests https://t.co/cDfsVcjkvM
"By the decision of the authorities, it is no longer possible to access Instagram in Iran since last night (Wednesday), and access to WhatsApp is also cut off," Fars news agency reported. These measures were taken because of "counter-revolutionary actions against national security through these social networks", the agency adds.
Iran, Wednesday, protesters push back, force riot police to retreat. pic.twitter.com/cJqTe30fEn— Frida Ghitis (@FridaGhitis) September 22, 2022
The rejection of Amini's death has crossed borders. Iranian women abroad have demonstrated in countries such as Lebanon and Turkey, where one girl cut her hair in protest in front of the Iranian consulate in Istanbul.
"The Iranian women's struggle for freedom is our own struggle, long live our international solidarity," read a banner at the protest near the consulate, reports AFP. Other Turkish women also cut their hair in solidarity with the Iranian women. "The women resisting in Iran will never walk alone", they stressed.
A group of women gathered in #Istanbul to protest the death of #MahsaAmini and show their solidarity with the women of Iran. They were stopped by the police and a number of them were reportedly arrested.pic.twitter.com/2xhQKhsipF— Balki Begum Bayhan ?? (@bbbayh) September 20, 2022
The protests have also reached the United Nations headquarters in New York, where the 77th General Assembly summit is being held these days, in which Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has taken part. "Raisi does not deserve a seat at the UN and is not the president of the people of Iran. Raisi is a mass murderer," activist Raha Heshmatikhah tells The Times of Israel. "It is horrible and unethical for an institution like the UN to welcome and allow Raisi to take a seat," she adds.
Iranian-American communities who have gathered in NYC from 40 states, in a week long protests against Raisi of #Iran, honored the memory of #Mahsa_Amini & all martyrs of #1988Massacre #RaisiMassMurderer #MahsaAmini— Hamid Azimi (@no2censorship) September 20, 2022
Demonstrators also carried pictures of Amini and protested against the compulsory veiling. "We are not asking Biden to bring us democracy. The people of Iran are brave enough. We don't want them to save us, we want them to stop saving the regime," said Masih Alinejad.
Outside the UN I challenged the Biden administration not to deal with a regime that kills women: "We aren't asking Biden to bring democracy for us. People of Iran are brave enough themselves. We don't want them to save us, we want them to stop saving the regime." #MahsaAmini pic.twitter.com/THTQNgPpTz— Masih Alinejad ?️ (@AlinejadMasih) September 21, 2022
In this regard, the Biden administration has chosen to sanction the morality police, who were responsible for Amini's death. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen described the murder as "another act of brutality by the Iranian regime's security forces against its own people". Yellen also said that this action demonstrates "the Biden-Harris Administration's clear commitment to upholding human rights and women's rights in Iran and around the world".
In addition to the Iranian brigade, Washington has sanctioned seven heads of security organisations for "using violence to repress peaceful demonstrators and members of Iranian civil society, political dissidents, women's rights activists, and members of the Iranian Baha'i community".
Iranians are so frustrated, their anger is exploding in the streets. The international community needs to support them in determining their own future. pic.twitter.com/cjYOU4HTcG— Masih Alinejad ?️ (@AlinejadMasih) September 21, 2022
Iran's current protests are the worst the country has seen since the 2019 riots over petrol price hikes that left 1,500 people dead, according to Reuters. As Mahmoud Amiry-Moghaddam, director of the NGO Iran Human Rights - quoted by AFP - says, Amini's murder "was probably the last straw that has broken the camel's back". "It could be the beginning of a big change," he predicts.
Azadeh Kian, a sociology professor specialising in Iran at Paris Cité University, stresses that these protests are "unprecedented" because they are led by women. Kian recalls that economic crises, unemployment and the political situation have been the main causes of demonstrations in recent years. But this time, "we are hearing protests not only against the general situation in the country, but also for women's rights. It's an important change," she adds.
Older Iranians have been skeptical that the recent protests would have an impact. They've been let down in the past.— Yashar Ali ? یاشار (@yashar) September 21, 2022
But I am seeing more and more older women in the crowds.
This woman removed her headscarf while chanting "down with Khamenei!"#MahsaAmini pic.twitter.com/jw8vHIPGUa
Women are leading the protests and men, in many cases, are supporting them. "As we waved our veils in the air, I felt very excited to be surrounded and protected by men. It's great to feel this unity. I hope the world will support us," a female protester in Isfahan told the BBC's Ali Hamedeani.