How the police-custody death of Mahsa Amini became Iran’s ‘George Floyd moment’

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It’s being called Iran’s “George Floyd moment.”

On Sept. 13, Mahsa Amini, an aspiring 22-year-old lawyer, was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab in a way that made some of her hair visible. Three days later, she was dead. Eyewitnesses said she was beaten to death in police custody.

Police claimed she died of heart failure, but the Iranian people weren’t convinced. After years under a regime relentlessly harassing women and squashing human rights, Amini’s death was the final straw.

Since details of her demise emerged, tens of thousands of people have exploded onto streets in 155 cities across Iran, chanting “Woman, Life, Freedom.” Though police used violence to subdue the uprising, leading to the deaths of at least 437 protesters, including 61 children, the demonstrations have only intensified.

Famous Iranian women, including entertainers and the national female basketball team, are appearing in public without state-mandated hijabs. Videos have shown young Iranians knocking turbans off clerics’ heads. Last week, Iranians set fire to the childhood home of the late Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. And on Monday, before Iran faced England in their World Cup opener in Qatar, the Iranian team refused to sing their national anthem. In the 22nd minute of the match, some fans could be heard calling Amini’s name.

On Tuesday, the US will take on Iran in the World Cup while the Middle Eastern country is roiled by the biggest public revolt since its regime imposed a mandatory dress code for women in 1983.

A photo of the Iranian women’s basketball team without their hijabs circulated on social media, representing a “cultural earthquake” to some observers.
Masih Alinejad/ Twitter

“Women and girls want to be able to walk in public without fear that they will be arrested, tortured and killed if their hair is showing,” said Mansoureh Mills, an Amnesty International researcher who focuses on Iran, told The Post. “Protesters want what we in the West often take for granted: freedom, human rights and democracy.”

The death of a citizen in police custody followed by viral videos showing furious protests represents a potential “George Floyd” moment for Iran, said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.

Protesters set fire to the ancestral home of Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini last week in Khomein.
Protesters set fire to the ancestral home of Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini last week in Khomein.
ESN/AFP via Getty Images
An Iranian protester was caught on camera knocking a cleric's turban off his head in Iran.
An Iranian protester was caught on camera knocking a cleric’s turban off his head in Iran.
SalamPix/Abaca/Sipa USA

“Many people are pointing out that this could be my daughter, my sister, my wife,” Ghaemi told NBC News. “This has shaken people, that every time a woman leaves home, she might not come back.”

Last week, the deaths of three children in the southwestern city of Izeh led to even greater outrage. Kian Pirfalak, 10, was killed when security forces opened fire on his family’s car near a protest, his mother told The New York Times. Two 14-year-old boys, Artin Rahmani and Sepehr Maghsoudi, were also shot dead at a protest.

Kian Pirfalak, 10, was killed on Nov. 16 in Izeh when Iranian security forces opened fire on his family's car, his mother has told reporters. His death has spurred protests.
Kian Pirfalak, 10, was killed on Nov. 16 in Izeh when Iranian security forces opened fire on his family’s car, his mother has told reporters. His death has spurred protests.
@dura_viiauuant/Twitter

The triple tragedies sparked angry crowds to unleash their fury on Khomeini, who died in 1989. In Khomein, the museum of his childhood home was set ablaze. In Khash, crowds were seen destroying a street sign that bore his name. In Qom, parts of the Shia theology center where the Khomeini first gave birth to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, were set on fire.

The fatal shooting of Kian, an “absolutely innocent” child, sent the protests to a new level — from which Iranians are unlikely to turn back, said Fatemeh Aman, a fellow at the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

The mysterious death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody has sparked a protest movement in Iran, especially among women and young men.
The mysterious death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody has sparked a protest movement in Iran, especially among women and young men.
IranWire via REUTERS

“He was very involved in nature,” Aman said of Kian, who was seen planting trees in a home video that circulated after his death. “It really made me cry. That boy is a symbol as to what’s left saving in Iran, which is not much due to the disastrous policies of this regime.”

The death of Mahsa Amini, who was Kurdish, represents not just Iran’s atrocities toward women but their brutal treatment of the ethnic group of Kurds living in the country, said human rights activist Gordyaen Benyamin Jermayi, 25.

The raging daily protests have taken over more than 150 cities in Iran since mid-September.
The raging daily protests have taken over more than 150 cities in Iran since mid-September.
AP

“Clearly the main demand of all the protesters all over Iran is the abolition of this regime,” said Jermayi, who works for the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, which monitors abuses against Kurds. “But Kurds are demanding more than that. They are demanding for their very basic human rights; they are asking for justice for all the victims, freedom and a better and secure future.

“Almost every Kurdish citizen under Iran, Turkey, Syria and Iraq has faced discrimination,” Jermayi added. “It’s not a surprising thing for us. We grew up with this.”

Protesters burn a trash can during a rally in Tehran for Amini in late September, just days after she died.
Protesters burn a trash can during a rally in Tehran for Amini in late September, just days after she died.
AFP via Getty Images

Originally born in Urmia, Jermayi fled Iran in 2014 after being arrested at a rally for Kurdish fighters battling ISIS in Syria. The young activist said he was lucky to escape after being bailed out of jail for $6,000.

Jermayi now lives outside of Kurdistan, fearful of retaliation by the Iranian regime. He said he expects Iran’s protests to get even bloodier as fervent citizens seek an end to the Islamic Republic.

Demonstrators in support of Amini rally in Tehran on Oct. 8
Demonstrators in support of Amini rally in Tehran on Oct. 8
AFP via Getty Images

“These forces directly shoot at civilians, attack civilian houses without a legal warrant and arrest people,” he said. “In some cases, they robbed people’s houses and took their belongings. This is what we see on the streets.”

Iranian authorities have arrested an estimated 18,055 people, including students and journalists, since the protests broke out, according to nonprofit group Human Rights Activists in Iran.

Amini was visiting relatives in Tehran when she was arrested on Sept. 13 for not wearing a hijab in accordance with Iran's strict dress code for women. She died three days later.
Amini was visiting relatives in Tehran when she was arrested on Sept. 13 for not wearing a hijab in accordance with Iran’s strict dress code for women. She died three days later.
Getty Images

“Some of those arrested protesters have been accused of ‘moharebeh,’ which means ‘war against God,’” Jermayi said. “And in the Iranian constitution, this accusation results in an execution.”

At least 21 people arrested during the uprisings are now facing execution in “sham trials” designed to deter other Iranians from joining the cause. Five have already been sentenced to death, Amnesty International said last week.

But the arrests will not dissuade the protestors, Jermayi insisted.

“Religious Iranians who were traditionally the regime’s supporters now want the regime to go. It means the regime basically has no social power and all they have is their military power and forces. Maybe less than 5% of Iranians are with the regime now.”

Protesters rally in support of Amini at Islamic Azad University in Sari, Iran, on Nov. 20.
Protesters rally in support of Amini at Islamic Azad University in Sari, Iran, on Nov. 20.
HRANA English / Twitter

Amini and the three slain boys now serve as “symbols of innocence” for Iranian protesters determined to change the face of their country forever, said Middle East Institute fellow Aman.

“I truly believe the face of Iran has been changed permanently,” she said. “It will never again be in the direction that this regime wants.

The public’s unified “resentment and hatred” of Iran’s ruling clerics has never been higher, Aman said.

“The violence imposed upon [Amini] in Tehran was the tiny explosion that made the volcano erupt. This is [a] generational rebellion. There is no ideology involved, there is no leader involved, and this is something that their parents could not achieve for many decades.

“And that is something that has never happened before,” she said. “That’s what really scares the regime more than anything.”



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