A violent uprising against Iran’s theocratic regime is sweeping the nation. The protests, now going into their second week, have forced President Ebrahim Raisi’s hand, as he said on Saturday that these “riots” would be “decisively” dealt with.
As reported by Reuters, anti-government demonstrations have now spread to most of Iran’s 31 provinces and almost all of its urban centres, and are gathering steam. The spark which set the tinder alight was the suspicious death of Mahsa Amini.
Protesters believe that the 22-year-old Kurdish woman, who died in hospital three days after being attacked, had been mortally wounded by Tehran’s morality police while in their custody. She was being held there for having infringed on the country’s veiling law, which commands all women to cover up most of their face and hair so as not to unduly entice their male countrymen.
For many years, Iran’s over 40-year-old theocracy had been contending with an increasingly disgruntled female citizenry. As the Iranian academic Azar Nafisi wrote in her 2003 book Reading Lolita in Tehran, “Living in the Islamic Republic is like having sex with a man you loathe.” Indeed, many women like her had been subjected to not only rape but torture and state-sanctioned killings as well.
With Amini’s death serving as the trigger event, women and male sympathisers now want a different Iran. Indeed, this particular uprising is being led by Iran’s women, as they show where their allegiance lies by taking off and sometimes burning their veils.
Some have made even bolder public statements. The act of cutting off one’s hair (which the men equally participate in), and converting the loosened strands into a flag, has fast become an indelible piece of iconography to emerge from the protests.
Chants such as “death to the dictator!” and “Mullahs must be gone!” are frequently heard as well.
The Iranian head of state, sensing the tide turning against him and his, has blamed the unrest on conspirators and pledged to crack down on “those who oppose the country’s security and tranquillity.” State media reports that he “stressed the necessity to distinguish between protest and disturbing public order and security,” most likely a semantic ploy to give the impression that Tehran, which calls itself a republic, but is anything but, cares about such rights for its people.
Yet, Raisi still has allies. On Friday, thousands of counter-protesters took part in pro-government rallies to show their support for the regime. Regional media reports emphasised protesters had come of their own volition. In Tehran, they were seen waving Iranian flags, calling for the ‘rioters’ to be executed, as they chanted anti-American and anti-Israel slogans. In this, they echo the state’s opinion that the current unrest is due to foreign countries hostile to Iran’s government.
According to the latest estimates provided by Iran’s state television, at least 41 people have been killed since the protests erupted on September 15th. This toll is based on its own counting as official figures are yet to be released. Meanwhile, authorities in the country’s north said on Saturday, September 24th, that they had arrested 739 people, including 60 women, on charges of taking part in demonstrations.
An Amnesty International report released on September 21st notes that “at least four” out of that number had died “from injuries sustained from security forces firing metal pellets at close range,” with at least two had “lost sight in one or both eyes,” while hundreds more, including children, had “sustained painful injuries amounting to torture or other ill-treatment due to the unlawful use of birdshot and other munitions against them.”
The human rights organisation calls for the UN General Assembly, where the Iranian president spoke only days ago, to help establish an “independent international investigative and accountability mechanism to address the prevailing crisis of impunity in Iran.”
Some fear a possible repeat of the bloody 2019 protests over high fuel prices, in which an estimated 1,500 perished in the regime’s crackdown.
In what was interpreted as a countermeasure to stop the protests from spreading, mobile internet has been disrupted in Iran. Activists deem the move to also be intended to prevent video footage of the regime’s brutal crackdown from receiving global attention.
Platforms, such as Skype, Instagram, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn have all been targeted since. To help keep Iran’s internet open, on Friday the U.S. made an adjustment to its set of sanctions that it had imposed on the regime in Iran.
According to officials, Iranians are now able to access tools that can be used to circumvent state surveillance and censorship. The move was an expected one in Tehran, as it stated on Saturday that it supported Washington’s hostile stance.