If you’ve seen headlines about ongoing chaos in Iran, you might have some questions about why people are protesting, what they’re hoping to gain, and how an oft-times brutal, theocratic regime is responding.
Here are seven quick facts to help sum up the troubling — and potentially transformative — situation:
Mahsa Amini’s Mysterious Death
Protests began last month after Mahsa Amini, 22, fell into a coma and mysteriously died Sept. 16.
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Arrested by the so-called morality police, she was accused of not properly donning her hijab, an Islamic head covering Iranian women are implored to wear in public.
The arrest reportedly happened as Amini was exiting a train on a visit to her uncle in Tehran. She was purportedly approached by the morality police over her attire, and begged the police not to detain her.
After her arrest, she was taken to the police station and then a hospital, where family members were kept away from her — but noticed some injuries.
Amini tragically died three days after being taken into custody in Tehran. One source described her as shy and reserved and said she had not challenged strict Islamic dress codes before.
It’s important to note her family claims she was wearing her hijab and attire correctly.
Who Are the Morality Police?
It’s important to take a brief moment to describe the morality police, a concept surely foreign to most Americans and others living in free societies.
These diabolical law enforcement groups have power — and weapons — and send people to so-called reeducation centers as well as detention centers, according to CNN.
“The Morality Police, an element of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces (LEF), arrests women for wearing ‘inappropriate’ hijab and enforces other restrictions on freedom of expression,” the U.S. Department of State has noted.
If a person fails to comport with regulations about modesty or attire, he or she — though it is mostly women — would go to a reeducation center to be taught classes about Islam and the hijab. These individuals would then also need to pledge to abide by Iran’s restrictive rules.
These forces are pervasive throughout the nation. Another interesting note is the history of the hijab and associated regulations. At one point in 1936, one of Iran’s rulers banned headscarves, but after the 1979 revolution, the hijab returned and was codified back into law.
Dueling Stories About What Happened
Amini’s father has openly blamed the police for his daughter’s death, claiming she suffered noticeable bruising to her legs.
But Iranian officials are telling another story, with a coroner stating she died from organ failure due to cerebral hypoxia, a condition that leaves the brain without enough oxygen; it can come during strokes, heart attacks, or other medical issues.
The coroner’s report also said she fell in custody as the result of “underlying diseases.” The family denies the woman had any such underlying issues.
It’s unclear what happened to Amini, but one thing is undeniably true: the public is outraged.
Iranians Have Taken to the Streets
Protesters have been taking to the streets over Amini’s death, with initial estimates stating at least 41 people have died in the clashes. But Iran Human Rights, a Norway-based group, said at least 185 people have died, including 19 children.
As the days and weeks progress, anger, and protests continue to mount. Some experts wonder if these acts of discontentment could threaten the current regime.
The protests, which are female-led, have a tagline, “Women, life, and freedom.” Considering the status of women in Iran and the restrictions placed upon them, this is a fascinating development.
Women have few rights and protections in Iran and are, by all accounts, second-class citizens, with honor killings and other such atrocities unfolding routinely. Of late, new restrictions have reportedly been placed upon women, with the hijab at the center of some new codes and efforts.
According to The Wilson Center, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei designated July 12 the day of “Hijab and Chastity.” According to the Center, “Iran’s clerical-dominated state has launched a new campaign to impose the Islamic dress code on women.”
This seems to be part of the frustration driving protests, which include an “unprecedented” number of teenagers, according to some sources.
The Beginning of the End?
Mayra Yazdari, an Iranian-born producer for CBN’s Farsi language programming, said Iranians have been doing more than calling for policy changes; they seem to want regime change.
In fact, some young people yelled, “Death to the dictator,” while some women burned their hijabs.
The female-led protests are getting support from men, soccer stars, and others who are outraged and want to see change. Around 80 cities have been involved in these protests, NBC News reported.
“It is important that we understand the significant shift in Iranian people’s protests against the regime since 2018, that people are asking for overthrow (of) the regime to the entire system,” she said, adding change could be possible but that help is needed. “It has the potential, but you know, as we all know, the regime is brutal, and people are just, you know, people are left alone by the international community.”
Actor Nazanin Boniadi, an ambassador for Amnesty International, said something new seems to be afoot inside Iran.
“Never in my 14 years working on human rights advocacy have I witnessed such disillusionment with, and opposition to, the Islamic Republic regime,” she told The Guardian. “While Iran has become accustomed to mass protests every decade, neither the student protests of 1999 nor the green movement of 2009, or even more recently the November 2019 protests, compare in fervor or magnitude to the current protests.”
One article in the Guardian was titled, “Are hijab protests ‘the beginning of the end’ for Iran’s regime?” The reality is, no one knows the precise answer — but the consternation hasn’t tempered.
Iranian President Accuses US of Double Standard
In taking questions about Amini’s death and the protests, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi pointed to what he sees as double standards in America and the West.
“How many times each day in the US are men and women killed every day at the hands of law enforcement personnel?” he rhetorically asked.
Raisi is also blaming “foreign enemies” for stoking the chaos in his country.
The U.S. has sanctioned Iranian leaders as a result of the tragic circumstance.
The Latest Developments
As the Iranian regime continues to crack down on protestors, Germany’s foreign minister called this weekend for the European Union to freeze assets and punish those responsible for the harsh response to those exercising their disdain and frustration over Amini’s death.
“Those who beat up women and girls on the street, carry off people who want nothing other than to live freely, arrest them arbitrarily and sentence them to death stand on the wrong side of history,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock reportedly said.
Hundreds have reportedly been arrested since the protests broke out nearly a month ago, according to The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Amini’s family, already reeling from her tragic death, is reportedly receiving death threats. Amini’s cousin, Erfan Mortezai, said the family has also been warned to stay out of protests.
“Our family have been under immense pressure from the Islamic Republic’s officials, so we don’t talk to human rights organizations or channels outside of Iran and inform anyone from the outside world about her passing,” Mortezai told the BBC. “They are under Islamic Republic torture. The regime’s officials have threatened us through Instagram with fake accounts and told the family members in Iran that if they get involved in the protests, they might be killed.”
He continued, “Myself, I have been receiving many threats over the phone, [saying] that if they see me in the city, they will kidnap me and kill me.”
Pray for peace in Iran, for those protesting, and for Amini’s family during this harrowing time.
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