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Custodial Death Of 22y.o. Mahsa Amini And Ongoing Women’s Protests In Iran – Here’s What We Know

Women participating in these rallies were seen to take off their hijabs as a sign of protest, and also have been chopping off their hair and burning the hijabs.

Women all over Iran are protesting in huge numbers, and these protests have become violent in many parts of the country.

It all began with the hijab law that says a woman MUST cover all her hair with a hijab when in public, and the arrest and custodial death of 22 year old Mahsa Amini.

What happened to Mahsa Amini?

On 13th September, a young 22-year old woman named Mahsa Amini, a citizen of Iran, was detained by the morality police at Tehran, the capital city of the nation. The morality police cited failure to follow the hijab law which is stringently enforced in the state. This said law makes it compulsory to cover all of one’s hair with a hijab. The police claimed Mahsa Amini had failed to follow the law but they did not offer any other explanation.

According to the reports, she was visiting Tehran with her family from the city of Saqiz in the Kurdistan province. She was accompanied by her brother when the police detained her. Mahsa’s mother has shared in interviews that she was attired in accordance with the laws.

Not long after her arrest she was transferred by an ambulance to a hospital where she went into a coma. Three days later, after being plugged to machines in those days, she passed away. The police claim it was due to a heart attack; her family discredits this claim citing good health and absence of any heart problems in the young woman.

State television broadcasted a clip showing a woman, presumably Amini, collapsing. Another video that was circulated on social media all over the world showed her lying unconscious on a hospital bed with tubes inserted in her nose and mouth and her ears bleeding. Medical officials point out that the blood oozing out of her ears indicate a blow to the head.

Who are the morality police and what do they do?

With the Islamic Revolution of 1979 came dress codes for women. This made hijab compulsory for women in public places. In addition to that there are other codes banning tight clothes or clothes exposing knees and other restrictions. The morality police implement these laws that have been in effect since 1979.

The activities of the morality police are controversial as they have overstepped boundaries of the laws in places. They have been criticised for their treatment of young women, particularly. From custodial death to harassment, the police system is an object of wide-scale protests in Iran.

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After the election of conservative leader Ibrahim Raisi as the President of Iran, the implementation of the morality laws have become more strict, and the morality police have cracked down heavily on what they define as ‘immodest clothing’.

What shape has the women’s rights protest taken in Iran?

Large-scale protests have erupted all over Iran. People have taken to the streets to protest against the custodial death of Mahsa Amini, from the provinces like Kurdistan and its cities to the capital city of Tehran.

Hundreds of people have marched down the streets of Tehran to demand relaxation of the dress codes. Women participating in these rallies were seen to take off their hijabs as a sign of protest, and also have been chopping off their hair and burning the hijabs. Students from Tehran University and Shahid Bahesti university have also gathered, and are demanding an investigation into her death and the dismantling of the morality police.

Demonstrators were heard chanting ‘Death to the Dictator’, stones were pelted at security forces, and have torched bins and other items.

The police have brought an even heavier crackdown on the protesting masses. They responded with baton charges and teargas. Internet access in the country was shut down and major roadways were blocked. Plain clothes police and riot police have been assigned to the streets.

The most intense police violence has been inflicted in Mahsa Amini’s home province where reportedly four protestors have been killed. Many more have been wounded or arrested.

Other recent Women’s Movements in and around the Middle East

Countries in and around the Middle East have a rich history of women’s movements standing up for human rights. Only in 2020, when black and white pictures of women who stood up against gender violence made the rounds on social media, it could be traced to a women’s protest in Turkey. It was to protest high rates of violence against women and the brutal murder of a 27 year old student.

July 2016 saw Saudi Arabian women standing up to laws that make male guardianship necessary. The movement raged on and gained massive momentum. It gained women their right to live alone without male guardians in 2021.

Iran, too, has seen an uprising against policing of women’s clothing between 2017 and 2019. It began in 2017 as an Iranian woman Vida Movahed became an inspiration for other women to take off their hijabs. They were seen waving their headscarves which were tied to sticks.

The reaction of the international community

Mahsa Amini’s death by custodial violence for “not properly following the morality laws around clothing” has brought international attention to the state excesses in Iran. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif has criticised the violent response to the protesters by the police authorities. The Commissioner has also urged for an impartial probe by independent authorities so that her family can find truth and justice.

Amnesty International, too, called for an investigation into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in police custody that led to her death. US special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley echoed the same sentiments, as did France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, among others.

This incident of custodial violence has sparked a debate worldwide on the policing of women’s bodies. This has reached everyone’s social media highlighting the condition of women anywhere on earth.

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About the Author

Kamalika

An undergraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional feminist and an avid reader when she's not busy telling people about her cats. Adores walking around and exploring read more...

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