Iran protests: why the death of Mahsa Amini has reignited protests

Social media has been flooded with videos of unprecedented protest scenes in Iran as women cut their hair and burn their hijabs while men cheer for them.

They were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amin last Friday after she was allegedly beaten for not conforming to hijab regulations. She was hospitalised three days after she was arrested in Tehran by police responsible for enforcing Iran’s strict dress code for women.

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Since protests started in Amin’s home town and spread across the country, Iranian people around the world have been joining in protest marches, and many on social media say they can no longer contact family inside Iran.

Here’s everything we know so far.

Mahsa Amin’s death

Mahsa Amini, was arrested on September 13 by the Guidance Patrol – referred to casually as the ‘Morality Police’. They’re a type of vice squad operating under the Law Enforcement Command in Tehran, Iran.

Amini was arrested for allegedly breaching strict hijab regulations and was accused of having “unsuitable attire” because she wore her head covering improperly.

Three days later, she reportedly fell into a coma while waiting with other women who were being held by police.

Iranian authorities claim she died of a heart attack thanks to her pre-existing heart condition, but reports were also spread that eyewitnesses saw her being beaten when her head hit the side of a police car.

Her father has also said confirmed she had no prior health problems and that she sustained bruises on her legs while in custody.

Leaked medical scans seems to support the unofficial story, as they “vividly show a skull fracture on the right side of her head caused by a severe trauma to the skull”, which suggests she may have died from cerebral haemorrhage and stroke.

Protesters take to the streets

The people of Iran didn’t buy the official death story of a ‘heart attack’, and have since taken to the streets to protest Amini’s death and police brutality, but also the Taliban regime after they took over the country by force in August last year.

In scenes shared across social media, women could be seen cutting their hair and burning their hijabs in protest, while men and women around them cheered.

Large groups of people were recorded chanting things like “death to the Islamic Republic (regime)”, “we don’t want Islamic Republic” and “death to Khamenei” – Iran’s current Supreme Leader.

In the background of many videos, more than just hijabs can be seen on fire: everything from police cars, to bins, to buildings, to a giant image of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleiman.

According to reports by Iranian state media, the street rallies with up to 1000 people had spread to 15 cities by Wednesday, with police there to use tear gas and make arrests.

“These are the biggest protests since November 2019,” said Ali Fathollah-Nejad, Iran expert at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

Iran cuts internet access

As videos of this dissent go viral, the Iranian government appears to have reduced internet access to stop more videos from being shared.

As of yesterday, September 22, Iran completely shut off the internet in parts of Tehran and Kurdistan, as well as blocking access to social media platforms like Instagram and WhatsApp.

Many people in Iran took to social media before it was blocked to share what was happening to them and beg for help.

Since then, worried family members living outside the country have also shared their terror at not being able to contact family in Iran.

“The Iranian people have been cut off from the internet while world leaders are meeting at the United Nations,” captioned one Iranian women on her video.

“Please be our voice.”

“The Iranian government is shutting off our internet so that they can shut our mouth … and they’re killing us,” she added.

“They’re killing people, they’re shooting people … in many different cities and people are raging,” shared another in what she said likely be her last TikTok video for a while.

“Please support us, please. Please share our message to the world.”

Death toll rising

Protesters risk their own lives to stand up against their government, and the death toll is rising.

At least 31 civilians have been killed so far in the protests, according to an Oslo-based Iran Human Rights NGO. There have also been five security personnel deaths, according to local media.

Iranian media reported that on Thursday, three militiamen who had been “mobilised to deal with rioters” were stabbed or shot dead in three different Iranian cities: Tabriz, Qazvin and Mashhad.

Another security member was reported to have died in the southern city of Shiraz, while local news also reported a protester was stabbed to death in Qazvin.

The Iranian authorities have denied having anything to do with protester deaths.

Questions arise for future of current leadership

The widespread protests are renewing a question of how long current leadership can hold their position.

“Current conditions in Iran suggest that there may be a tendency toward unifying both groups. The outrage over Amini’s death is shared by both the middle and lower classes,” Fathollah-Nejad told AFP.

“This cannot be solved until the regime implements a series of reforms. Since the Islamic republic is both an ideological regime, inefficient and corrupt, it cannot solve its own created problems.”

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