Peace Magazine: Amplifying Voices in Iran

Peace Magazine

Amplifying Voices in Iran

• published Jan 01, 2023 • last edit Apr 11, 2023

It began with a loose hijab, but…

On 13 September 2022, 22-year-old Jina “Mahsa” Amini was arrested by Iran’s morality police for “improperly” wearing her hijab. Reports stated that they beat her and smashed her head against a vehicle. She fell into a coma, collapsed at the detention centre, and passed away three days later. The reporters Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi exposed the incident and were imprisoned by the Iranian regime. As we go to press, they remain in prison.

Human rights violations had been mounting, and Amini’s death became the catalyst for protests. What started as a feminist movement quickly turned into an anti-government movement led by youth. Since Amini’s death on 16 September 2022, tens of thousands of women and men—especially youth—have protested against the Iranian government, chanting, “Woman, life, freedom,” (or in Farsi) “Zen, Zendegi, Azadi,” in hopes of stopping the government’s strict enforcement of the hijab.

The uprising started on 16 September with a protest at the front of the hospital in Tehran where Amini died, and spread into all 31 provinces within a few days. The crackdown on the protestors has sparked worldwide demonstrations in more than 150 cities in support of activists advocating for their human rights, and against the merciless response by the Iranian government.


Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, there have been several protests against the Islamic Republic for basic human rights and better standards of living.The first mass protest against mandatory hijabs occurred on International Women’s Day, 8 March 1979. Years later, Masih Alinejad, an activist and journalist, initiated the “White Wednesday” campaign, in which Iranian women and men wore white scarves, hijabs, or bracelets on Wednesdays in protest against compulsory hijabs. The Iranian Green Movement in 2009, also referred to as the “Persian Awakening” or “Persian Spring” by the western media, was a political movement about the presidential election. The “Girls of Enghelab” protests started on December 2017 against compulsory hijab. It was part of the broader Iranian Democracy Movement over economic hardship, corruption in the government, human rights violation, mandatory hijab and Iranian involvement in regional conflicts. In 2019, “Bloody November” was triggered by an overnight fuel price hike and poverty, but quickly turned into calls for the overthrow of the government and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Over 20,000 were arrested from November 15 to 17, and Reuters reported 1,500 were killed by the Islamic Republic security forces.

Since 2020 there have been other political movements, civil disobedience, online activism, and demonstrations in Iran addressing such economic and social issues as unemployment, inflation, government corruption, an ongoing water crisis, and the disillusionment of youth. Among them, the most prominent was the Green Movement which started in response to the contested election of 2009. On 23 June 2009, the incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, asserted his victory the following day, but on 25 June, Iranians took to the streets, chanting “Where Is My Vote?” This became the slogan of the demonstrations that lasted until 14 February 2010. The death of a young woman during one of the protests created more momentum for the fight against an oppressive regime.

Despite the growth of the civil disobedience movement, the Green Movement lost momentum when they attempted to rally in support of the Arab revolutions. Many of its leaders were sentenced to jail in illicit court cases, with Mir Hossein Mousavi emerging as its symbolic leader.

The Green Movement was resistance in a country run by corrupt politicians and theocratic zealots as a safe haven for terrorists, known for taking political hostages. Yet in that country there has emerged a hope for democracy.

What started out as a group of angry voters gained national and international support through the combined use of the internet and street-power. There are obvious links between the Green Movement and the protests in Iran today. Why did the Green Movement and other previous protests fail? And why are today’s protests different?

First, the current movement was initially driven by a demand for greater civil liberties, including women’s rights. Though triggered by the death of Masha Amini, it has broadened into demands for basic human rights and a transition away from the Islamic Republic. Previous movements were driven by economic or electoral grievances. Today’s protests are fighting to dismantle the Islamic Republic and defend human rights.

Second, the current movement is led by women and girls, unlike former protests. It is noteworthy that males are protesting in solidarity.

Third, the current movement has amassed broad support across religious, cultural, age, class, gender, and geographic divides. It also includes students, universities, contract oil workers, and shopkeepers. In fact, many shops in Iran’s tourist areas have closed in support, and all these intersections increase the protest’s power. During the 2019 protests these groups did not work together, so they were unsuccessful. Today, people from many different groups share a powerful common purpose and motivation.

Finally, the current movement is the longest consecutive movement to date. The Green Movement lasted eight months, including several quiet periods, whereas the current movement has lasted three months already and is gaining momentum. Protests have intensified since the executions on 8 December 2022.


We have seen many headlines in the past few months on the events in Iran, but some facts have been delayed, distorted, or misrepresented. Here let’s clarify the situation.

In response to the government, the Iranian people have protested by burning their hijabs and cutting their hair. As the Wales-based writer and translator, Shara Atashi, tweeted, “Women cutting their hair is an ancient Persian tradition, and it was about mourning and protests against injustice when the fury is stronger than the power of the oppressor.”

The youthful population has been particularly active within the protests, with university students and high school students participating. Unfortunately, they have met cruel responses from the authorities. The Iranian government crackdown has taken at least 520 lives, with 64 of them being children, including an 11-year-old boy. Some children have been shot with live ammunition, while others died as a result of beatings.

There are reports of children being arrested in schools and detained with adults, some of them tortured. On 12 October 2022, children were reportedly arrested and transferred to psychological centres for correction and education for having participated in anti-government protests. On 17 October 2022, the UN asked Iran to end the killing and detention of children.

To control information about the protests, the Iranian government has shut off access to the internet. Protestors are being arrested, and the Iranian authorities have recently implemented the death penalty for those arrested for protesting.

Most recent reports indicate that over 500 protestors have been blinded by shotgun birdshots and other projectiles used by Iran’s security forces.

A group of over 300 ophthalmologists have reported that numerous protestors are seeking medical attention after being hit in their eyes by rubber bullets, metal pellets, and paintball bullets, blinding many. The regime has even denied some arrested persons medical attention. For example, after Yashar Tohidi, an aerospace engineering student, was shot and injured by the Iranian authorities, the authorities arrested him and refused him any medical attention.

The Iranian people continue to fight back. Some have been videoed setting an IRGC militia base on fire, stating, “We are the ones on the street every night. We’ve now overcome our fear. From now on, they’re the ones who must be scared of us.” Others have burned the flag of the Islamic Republic in the streets chanting, “We don’t want a child-murdering regime!”

On 4 December 2022, several media outlets reported that the Islamic Republic had dismantled its controversial morality police owing to the protests. Many article headlines such as “apparent victory for feminists,” indicated a win for the Iranian protestors. Yet, many Iranians have expressed their displeasure over the way media outlets have portrayed the dismantlement of the morality police. Gissou Nia, an Iranian-American human rights lawyer at the Atlantic Council, told CBC News, “I think it simply underscores that the global community wants a neat resolution to this story and is not realizing that the Iranian people want a full overhaul of the system—not just the morality police.”

Many activists argue on social media that news reports are creating misinformation, possibly as a propaganda tactic by the Iranian government to halt the protests. For instance, Masih Alinejad tweeted, “International media outlets must learn that when dictatorships like the Islamic Republic are in trouble, they spread propaganda, as the Iranian regime did in 2017 and as they did today. This is their modus operandi.”

Days after the supposed abolition of the morality police, ongoing events show that the Iranian protestors’ fight has not succeeded. Merely abolishing the morality police has not prevented further crimes against humanity by the regime, and many Iranians believe an overthrow of the regime is the only way to stop such acts.

A few days after the morality police were ended, Mohsen Shekari, a 23-year-old, who was arrested and convicted of “Hiraba,” or “waging war against God” for blocking a street for the protests, was executed on 8 December 2022.

His trial was expedited, and he was tried without a lawyer. The authorities originally told Shekari’s family that if they remained quiet about his story, he might live. Yet when the family arrived at the prison, they learned that Shekari had been executed.

In response to Shekari’s execution, Iranians have posted expressions of solidarity on social media. Many have committed to pushing back against the executions, and after Shekari’s death on 8 December, protesters were seen shouting, “Death to the dictator!” The executions have enraged the population and have fueled the Iranian people to continue fighting against the Islamic Republic.


Can the protests in Iran overthrow the regime? Iranians have declared in social media that the West needs to help stop the regime’s executions. In one video, the mother of a protestor who has been arrested and is facing execution pleads to the international community to amplify her voice. Others say they are helpless without the assistance of the international community. Some have tweeted that the international media outlets must publish the names of those who are to be executed. Simply condemning the regime is not preventing the ongoing human rights violations. Iranians are asking the U.S. to expel diplomats and stop negotiating over the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic, and for a UN fact-finding mission in Iran.

Much of this has proved difficult. The Biden administration has reported that reviving the nuclear deal is not a priority; instead, the Administration will focus on Iranian weapons being supplied to Russia. Moreover, the Islamic Republic has denounced the UN fact-finding mission, stating that the West has incited riots in Iran, and refusing to deal with such a mission.

Accurately reporting on the events in Iran seems to be the main request by protesters to the international community. Nevertheless, Western media outlets continue to delay and report inadequately. While the West continues to stand in solidarity with the Iranian protestors, there has been no further movement to assist the protestors in their struggle for freedom.

As the crimes against humanity increase, the Iranian people are exponentially gaining power. With every crackdown by the government, the protestors continue to push back. This movement is like no other in Iranian history; the people are demanding the dismantlement of the Islamic Republic. Supposedly, opinion polls were conducted but not published by the Iranian government showing that 60 to 80 percent of the population supports those in the streets, though they may not be as vocal.

This movement is a climax to all the movements of the past. It has the diversity and scope to succeed. Iranians from different classes, age, gender, geographic location, and religion are fighting for their basic rights. They continue to show bravery against the government crackdown and the violation of human rights.

Katia Evania is an Iranian-Canadian and has a BA degree in Software Engineering. Hayley Dick has a masters degree in history. Maurice Koetsier has a masters degree in social work. All three authors are candidates for Master of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Waterloo.

Published in Peace Magazine Vol.39, No.1: Jan-Mar 2023
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