Dozens of people are feared to have died in six days of protests in Iran sparked by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who had been detained by morality police for allegedly wearing a hijab headscarf in an “ improper” way.
The official line is that Amini died from heart failure or a stroke, but her family and protesters say she died of injuries sustained from a beating by police. Here, three protesters explain why they have taken to streets despite the dangers they face.
Rona, 20, Tehran
At 6.30pm last night, with the wounds on my body aching and my back black and blue with bruises, I walked through the Valiasr Square. A few meters ahead hundreds of other protesters were chanting: “Death to the dictator.”
In the past few days, the fight on the streets has gone beyond Mahsa Amini’s death. It is now about revenge; I am here for every minute of my life I have been humiliated for being a woman.
Two months ago, as I stood with other women in protest against the hijab decree, a policeman called me a slut. Although I was fully dressed, he said I was naked. I have had this and worse many, many times. Back then we were just a few dozen women asking for the right to choose how we dressed. I never expected that just a few weeks later things would take such a deadly turn.
Now, as we protest we are risking death. When I heard about Mahsa’s killing, I couldn’t let them get away with it. All our lives we have been policed and silenced, and I want to be free.
So, before they cut us off from the rest of the world, here’s what I want the world to know. We women in Iran aren’t weak. We are like any young women across the world. We love makeup tutorials and Hollywood movies. Yet we can’t walk the streets without being humiliated for wearing what we want.
So that is why I am protesting. As we marched last night we screamed, “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi,” (woman, life, freedom) and all I could picture in my head was how [Ayatollah] Khomeini’s regime will be crushed by every woman and girl on the streets, and every man joining us in protest.
A few minutes after we started marching, the riot police advanced. We gathered trash cans and set them on fire. All of us girls walked straight towards them, unhooking our hijabs, twirling them in the air and throwing them into the flames.
Moments later, they released tears. They used green laser lights to spot and identify some of us and shot rubber pellets straight at us. I turned around and started running, that’s when I took a hit on my legs.
We dispersed and ran towards the residential buildings when some of the families opened their gates for us. They gave us water to drink and to wash our burning eyes and told us how proud they were to see us fight. By the end of last night, I had blood stains all over my clothes but I was more determined than ever.
It is now Friday and I am getting dressed again to join the protest. Tell the world that we are alive and fighting – at least for now.
Mohsin, 19, Mashhad
On Wednesday night I saw the security forces push a teenage girl on to the road and beat her with batons. I will never forget the force with which they hit her.
Over the past week, the Iranian regime has unleashed unimaginable violence against us. Right now we don’t feel we can trust anyone. We have received alerts that cybersecurity forces are trying to infiltrate our protest groups on Telegram and WhatsApp.
At this point the protests are not just about Masha any more. It’s about freedom of choice, inflation, unemployment and dictatorship; one under which our futures are being erased. The regime killing Mahsa has reminded us about realities of our daily lives. Killing one of our sisters was the final straw.
This is why last night I headed out to join the protesters at about 5pm. When I got there, I was surprised how many young people were there, teenagers as young as 13.
We were about 60 people chanting for freedom. After only a couple of minutes, the police arrived and started shooting rubber bullets at us. We were hit multiple times because there were more than double the number of police. We retreated and ran back towards Bozorgmehr Street. There were police motorcycles parked there. They followed us and used teargas and then grabbed a dozen of us, all minors, and put them in police vans and drove away. We tried to stop them by throwing stones. We don’t know what happened to them. I can only hope they are still alive.
When we were walking away, more security forces appeared out of nowhere and used tasers on us and beat me on my back. I’m still in a lot of pain but I’ll keep protesting until the day they handcuff me. I will do anything for my country and the Iranian sisters that started this revolution.
Yesterday at work, I’d just gone downstairs to get dinner when the police stopped me. They took away my press card and hit me on my knees with batons. They told me, “What news are you going to write? We’ll give you back your card when we confirm you’re a reporter.”
I wasn’t even protesting. Yet even as a journalist I can’t report on what is happening because we are being monitored by our bosses and the police. We have been told we can’t use the word “death” in Mahsa’s case.
I’m locked up in the newsroom. In the past few days, the threats have increased against us. One of my colleagues had to change her number for her and network carrier for her because she was notified that they’re monitoring her online activity for her. This morning they raided the house of journalist Niloofar Hamedi and detained her. We have no knowledge of her whereabouts.
The crackdown on journalists has begun and they could come after me anytime. I am filled with anger, yet I feel helpless. The situation is only about to get worse. There have been incidents in Mashhad, Zanjan and Hamedan where the pro-regime protesters marched in support. I’ve been told there’s a demonstration this weekend. Pro-government Iranians, supported by the regime, will counter the ones protesting for Mahsa. They’ll start after Friday prayers and I fear this will take a deadly turn.
They’re putting people against people! I fear more people will lose their lives and here we are, unable to tell the world the plight of our own.
Names have been changed