زن زندگی آزادی. Zan, zendegi, azadi. Woman, life, freedom. These three simple words, spoken by countless Iranians as they take to the streets, serve as a rallying cry for protests on women’s freedom after the alleged murder of 22-year-old Mahsa (Jina) Amini by Iranian morality police sparked outrage.
Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman from the Saqqez province, visited Iran’s capital city Tehran Sept. 14 where she wore her headscarf (known as a roo-sari in Iran) in a “loose” manner that the morality police deemed unacceptable. The police attacked her, and Amini succumbed to her injuries hours later. Leaked autopsy reports suggest Amini’s death was the result of skull fractures caused by physical trauma, though the Iranian government, led by theocratic Ayatollah Ali Khameni, continues to deny wrongdoing and claims she died from a heart attack.
While Iran is known today for its authoritarian Islamic rule, the country wasn’t always like this. Before the 1979 Revolution, women and men in Iran lived in a relatively modernized and actively-Westernizing society. However, a combination of factors, such as the CIA’s 1953 coup d’etat which overthrew the democratically-elected president at the time, resulted in resentment and hatred toward Western traditions. Eventually, this culminated in the 1979 revolution which saw religious leader Ruhollah Khomeni take power and plunge the once-Democratic country into an absolute theocracy.
Khomeni began rolling out dress code regulations less than a month after the revolution, including a decree that women must don the traditional Islamic roo-sari in public. A day after Khomeni announced the requirement, protests abounded, with the movement against the mandatory headscarf law continuing on-and-off since.
Amini’s death revitalized the movement after the failed protests of 2017-2018; however, it has not been easy. Already, more than 12,000 people have been arrested, and at least 154, but perhaps more than 200, people have died as reported by the University of Denver and Iran Human Rights. The government also shut down the internet, curbing the ability for protestors to easily communicate with one another or the outside world. Still, the protests continue as Iranian women, alongside their male allies, demand freedom of dress and behavior.
“I think these protests are long overdue,” junior Arvin Nafisi, who lived in Iran until age five, said. However, he remains a skeptic that the protests will truly impact Iran’s future, citing the turmoil and strife that demonstrators face from police. “[Only] something so outrageous that can’t be put down [will end the Islamic regime.]”
Mahsa Amini’s death and the ensuing lack of transparency by the Iranian government outraged people across the world. Similar protests have broken out around America, including at the University of Florida and in downtown Miami, in support of Iranian women.
Whether the protestors win or lose, one thing is clear: people all over the world stand by and support them. As Amini’s family put it: “[Mahsa Amini] will not die. [Her] name will turn into a symbol.”