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Sunday 5 February 2023 Dublin: 1°C
ABACA/PA Images Protests in Iran
VOICES
Student in Iran 'Mahsa's death has lit a fire within - please do not forget us'
One young student has risked her safety to tell us her story.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 17th 2022, 5:00 AM

This week marks almost a month since massive protests began in Iran. The ultra-conservative Islamic republic has been rocked by a growing number of women-led demonstrations sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old woman died three days after she was arrested by Iran’s notorious morality police. Her death has fuelled the biggest wave of street protests and violence seen in the country for almost three years.

Young women, university students and schoolgirls have been at the forefront of the protests, shouting anti-government slogans, setting their headscarves ablaze and facing off with security forces in the streets. Chants of “Woman, Life, Freedom” are the movement’s catchcry.

The government has been criticised by international states and human rights groups for its ever-more violent crackdown on the protesters. Part of that crackdown has seen a restriction put on internet access and the use of social media, meaning it’s increasingly more difficult for international media to reach activists.

One young woman managed to make contact with us here at The Journal. She has taken a risk to share her story. To protect her identity, we have changed her name to the Irish name Fiadh, part of the meaning of which is ‘wildness’…

Hello. I am a student here in Tehran, Iran.

I grew up in Tehran in a non-religious family like many others in this country and had the freedom that I wanted. That means we dressed how we wanted, went out whenever we wanted, etc. Everyday life as you would understand it was normal, we had freedom.

At least until we came towards adulthood.

As I grew up, I felt like things outside were changing and growing somehow different.

Through my teens, my family began telling me a little more about how things work out there in the ‘real world’ of Iran.

It’s a bit silly when I think of it now because at the time it felt ridiculous like they were preparing me to enter some sort of battlefield. Unfortunately, I now know that is exactly what they were doing.

‘Don’t speak up’

They warned me against speaking up when I see the great injustice that’s been happening either in our schools or to the people who had fought for their rights in Iran.

My family were right to protect me, they were teaching me how to survive a dictatorship. You see, they too had learned this themselves as part of the previous generation. Despite the brutality of what’s happening in Iran today, they were arguably the generation who paid the highest price in the form of oppression.

royalty-shah-of-iran-uk-state-visit-london PA The Shah of Iran with Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace 1959. PA

Before my time, when my parents were young and my grandparents were still alive, Iran was ruled by Shah Reza Pahlavi, with power condensed to a small few. He presided over a widening of the gap between rich and poor into the 1970s. Opposition grew in the form of support for exiled Shia cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

iranian-revolution-1979-nsign-at-tehran-university-protesting-the-government-of-the-shah-of-iran-1979

In January 1979, after a series of violent protests against the shah, he left the country and would never return. As a new Islamic republic rose in Iran with the return of Khomeini, the stage was set for generations to come. Generations like that of my parents, and now mine.

politics-demonstrations-followers-of-ayatollah-ruhollah-khomeini-iran-circa-1979-additional-rights-clearences-not-available Alamy Stock Photo Followers of Khomeini, Iran, circa 1979 Alamy Stock Photo

If you ask the generation before us they’ll all tell you how free we are compared to the early years of their lives. In the ’70s and ’80s, you could get arrested for carrying a music tape in your car by an organisation called the Islamic Committee. As for my generation, we witnessed the 2018 protests that started. After the gasoline rationing in Iran and the 200% increase in the price of gasoline. And left us with the first internet blockage and over 1500 murdered protesters.

If you’ve been following events in my country this month, you will have heard of the modern iteration of the Islamic Committee – their close cousins the Morality Police.

They enforce my country’s strict Sharia law and make sure that we – mostly women – are ‘properly dressed’. In their eyes, that means wearing the hijab (headscarf). It is the Morality Police who arrested 22-year-old girl Mahsa Amini. It is under their watch that she died.

‘For Mahsa’

When we heard of the death of Mahsa, we were devastated and it felt like all the anger stored in us throughout the years suddenly erupted. She was the spark that lit our fire.

By day three of the protests, I knew that this was something different.

iranian-woman-dies-after-arrest-by-irans-morality-police Social Networks Mahsa Amini, 22, passed away in Iran's Kasra Hospital after being arrested by morality police for her alleged improper hijab on Sep 16, 2022. Social Networks

The protests were mostly made up of really young girls, some students like me and all were fighting for the rights of women in the first place.

The most unbelievable thing was that during these harsh days we all learned about how much we love each other and how strong our unity and bond can be.

We have been kept apart for so long – we attend separate schools, we come from different social backgrounds – so this brought us closer together.

I feel that this is more than just a case of ‘isolated protests’. It is now a movement. It has been widely spreading since day one and that strengthening, plus the kind attention from outside countries, is what has been keeping us going.

‘Bright minds and free thinkers’

I have been attending the protests from day one and throughout, my friends and I have tried to continue the fight. It has been challenging. The fear is in the air. The authorities are watching every move we make.

anti-hijab-protests-over-mahsa-aminis-death-in-custody-iran ABACA / PA Images Women remove their headscarves during protest in Tehran. ABACA / PA Images / PA Images

I don’t think I need to mention the harsh scenes in the protests to date because all you need to do is check your news feeds to see the violent crackdown. You will no doubt have seen the videos that have been uploaded by the few who can access the internet. But amid that violence we maintain a steely determination to keep going. We are united.

At one protest, I nearly got arrested. I was beaten in the street by the police and at the same time, my hair was being pulled by them. I was terrified. I was very lucky that day, somehow a kind older lady helped me escape.

Since the protests began, many people known to us on campus have disappeared. The authorities are especially interested in the best and brightest students from across the different universities.

protest-for-mahsa-amini-and-freedom-in-iran-istanbul ABACA / PA Images Thousands have protested around the world in solidarity with the people of Iran. Turkey, Oct 2. ABACA / PA Images / PA Images

Three of the students taken from my campus are currently in prison. We cannot find any information about the rest. We fear for their safety. There is some talk of them being kept in solitary confinement, but we cannot know for sure. 

Many of those arrested have been taken from their homes. We’re hearing of people like poets, journalists and women’s rights activists being of particular interest – because what we all know for sure is that a great dictatorship fears nothing but bright minds and free thinkers.

I can’t begin to tell you how this has mentally affected me and all my friends.
The constant worrying for our lives and the lives of those we care for in custody is taking its toll. But we cannot give up.

What can you do?

My message to you is that we are not tired of fighting because we know now that the destiny of a nation lies in its own hands.

But to you, I can say… take the time and learn about our history, Iran’s history.

We weren’t always sad and suffering people.

There was a time that Iran was free and happiness wasn’t a crime.

Know that our people are good and brave humans.

But they have had enough!

You could be a spark of hope in our dark days.

Tell the world about us.

Hold your authorities accountable because you have that privilege unlike we Iranians – ask them about what is being done and why some governments are secretly cooperating with these mindless dictators.

Let the world know the names of those we have lost:

And many many others…

After all, I think this is just the beginning of a change in our world and I’ve never felt so proud of my nationality before.

It’s an honour to be a part of this change and the best part is you don’t have to be an Iranian to take sides here. To take a stand.

This is about women and men fighting for the most basic of rights.

As a people, I hope we realise how much we have been manipulated by those seeking only power and authority over us.

For now, we must hold fast to the belief that no matter what happens to us in these protests, our sacrifices for women, life and freedom have been seen and supported around the world were not at all in vain.

Fiadh is a student in Iran.

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