Updated: Nov 6, 2022
Written by Finnialla, one of our current world events writers, and edited by Kayla-Jane Barrie, one of our editors!
The current leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, took power in 1989. The Berlin Wall had crumbled, and the Soviet Union was collapsing. South Africa had elected Nelson Mandela to power. Everyone was listening to Straight Up by Paula Abdul on their Walkman and watching Michael Keaton’s Batman. We didn’t have any idea what the next decade would bring.
For thirty years, Ayatollah has ruled the country with an iron fist. The rise of the Taliban and morality police have pushed toward extremist views, and its people are sick of it. After the brutal and heinous killing of Mahsa Amini for wearing her head scarf incorrectly in late September, people are beginning to rise up. The protests mark a new chapter for the women of Iran, but what can they accomplish, and how many more people have to die in the name of freedom?
Women and men alike have taken to the streets this past month. Many have burned their headscarves and cut their hair in protest. Schoolchildren have ripped up the pictures of the Ayatollah that hung in their classrooms and put messages of hope instead. For the people of Iran, it’s about the freedom of choice, and the belief to live without restrictions.
Many schoolgirls have also taken measures into their own hands. According to the BBC, there have been several demonstrations in classrooms, including ripping off headscarves and pushing school officials out of buildings. In Karaj, the girls forced an official out of the building complex by throwing water bottles at him until he retreated. In a suburb of Tehran, schoolgirls have taken to the streets to yell, “death to the dictator” and block traffic. Some were heard saying, “If we don’t unite, they will kill us one by one.”
The new generation will not go quietly into the night. Iranian women are some of the most educated in the Middle East, according to a study by the United States Institutes of Peace, “Since 1976, female adult literacy has more than tripled; females who finished primary education increased from 36 percent in 1971 to 99 percent in 2017; the percentage of females in higher education increased nearly 20 times – from 3 percent in 1978 to 59 percent in 2018…” For them, they are fighting for their future, no matter the consequences.
Martyrs for the Cause
The road to freedom, however, has been paved with death. Many journalists, protestors, and activists have been thrown in jail. According to Amnesty International, “at least 82 were killed in Zahedan, Sistan, and Baluchistan province after protesting another death and sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl by the hands of a police commander.” At least 16 more were killed when the protests resumed. Many eyewitnesses’ testimony speaks of the police aiming for “heads and hearts.”
In Tehran, more teenage girls have been found dead in mysterious circumstances. Nika Shakarami was reported missing after attending protests last week. Her last messages to friends stated she was being chased by police. When the police finally told the family of a body matching their daughter, the mom noticed that the death certificate stated she had died the same day she went missing. Nika’s Instagram and Telegram messages were deleted that same night.
While the family wanted the body buried in their village, the police reportedly stole the body and buried her miles away from where the family wished. When pressed, the uncle was arrested for asking questions about the theft and the other family is now wanted by the police. The officials have stated her death was from a fall off a roof, while the death certificate mentions serious blows to the head.
Another teenager was killed at the hands of the security forces earlier this month. Sarina Esmailzadeh, was a a 16-year-old vlogger. She was beaten by security forces with batons at the protests. The official statement was the same, that she committed suicide by jumping off a building, and just like Nika, having her family shunned into silence. Her family disputes the official's claims and says that she was beaten and sexually assaulted before her death, and also like Nika, buried without the family’s consent. Sarina’s mom calls out the security forces and says that they murdered her daughter and tried to force her to coerce a statement that she committed suicide.
While the protests have not gone away, they have been re-ignited once again after learning that last Thursday, another teenager has been killed. This time, 16-year-old Asra Panahi and her classmates were beaten in their class when security forces broke in and demanded that the girls sing an anthem that praises Iran’s supreme leader. The girls refused and were subsequently beaten. Many of the girls were taken to the hospital while others were arrested. Asra died of her injuries the next day.
This comes after a series of raids on school buildings by the police. For the past week, officers have been forcing themselves into classrooms, arresting schoolgirls, and firing teargas into school buildings. The Iran teachers Union is now calling for the resignation of the education minister, Yousef Nouri for condoning the violence happening to these girls.
Yousef has supported sending teenage protestors to “mental health” facilities. He stated that they are there to, “reform” the protesting students and rid them of their “anti-social” behaviors,” according to CNN.
The regime knows that it has failed to appeal to the younger generation and has now bracketed to attacking them with force. Amnesty International has found that in a ten-day span between September 20th and 30th, the police have killed more than 23 children. They also state that 16 percent of the deaths until October 3rd were children, but it is estimated to be higher.
For many taking on the protests, it has been mainly teenagers and young adults organizing and leading these talks against the government. They have taken to social media to spread information about the locations of protests and information the government wants to be kept secret. Even Iranian Americans have taken up the challenge to help their community in Iran, with some sending supplies to the ones protesting to getting messages passed around the web from inside the country, which has limited internet access in the past couple of weeks.
Many people suggest that young people, especially in Iran have less fear of the government. Assal Rad of the National Iranian American Counsel has said, “they don’t appear to have the same fears or trepidations of previous generations…they see their futures on the line.” Many kids have also found ways to get around government blocks, in song and poetry, and through TikTok. Rad stated, “They see a different world that they are not living, and so they’re able to better understand the injustices… They’re more empowered, they’re more confident, they’re less risk-averse to speak their minds.”
On The World Stage
On the world stage, many Iranian athletes and celebrities have taken a stand against the government, most recently a climber competing in South Korea. Elnaz Rekabi competed in the climbing competition in Seoul without a headscarf, sparking backlash from Iranian officials. Many were worried about Elnaz’s journey back to Iran and the punishment she faced. She stated on social media that she is safe and flying back to Iran, but the BBC has reported that “her cellphone and passport were confiscated and that she left Seoul two days before she was supposed to. Her family says they lost contact after she stated she was with an Iranian official.”
While the deaths have made national headlines, the many more imprisoned have now reached a tipping point. At Evin’s prison, one that holds political prisoners in Tehran, a fire broke out last Saturday. As of Monday, the government came out with an official death toll. Eight prisoners, all being held on “theft” charges as the officials called them had succumbed to their injuries on Sunday in a hospital. Many people are skeptical of the claims.
On Saturday night, online videos were circulated where gunshots and explosions could be heard, along with smoke rising from the prison. The blaze took several hours to be extinguished and the officials claim that no inmates had escaped. Some who have spoken to the inmates have said that the guards were firing tear gas as the fire raged.
Many reported that they had to break their windows to breathe. Human rights activist and former inmate Atena Daemi has spoken to current inmates about the condition and has relayed this, “Ward 8 have no water, gas, or bread and 45 of them were transferred to an unknown place… Now everyone is fine, but they are worried about being transferred to other prisons, solitary confinement, and interrogations. Because of this, a special session of the UN Human Rights Council has been requested by many online. So far, it has not.
For the military, it has not backed down. The IRGC, or the morality police as it is called by the international community is a strong adversary. In previous instances of protests, like the 1999 student protests or the 2009 protests, they use brute force arrests, and torture to stop them. For this new rise in anti-regime action, they have made themselves a fully militarized response, including using live rounds and killing protestors with armored vehicles at a higher pace than other times.
For the regime, it looks like a turning point for them. For this movement to truly be quelled, the military will have to be far greater with violence, which can backfire with more protests. Many of the world and activists in Iran see a political revolution in the future. One where the government is replaced with a representative democracy instead of the oppressive theocracy that it has now.
The Ayatollah has stated that, “the U.S and Israel are to blame” for the protests and wants the Iranian people to wait for the investigation of Mahsa’s death to conclude, but his empty words have done nothing to quash the protests. The international community is united with the Iranian people, as President Biden has announced two weeks ago sanctions against top Iranian officials. In a statement to the press, State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said, “This cruel and ongoing suppression of protesters just shows that the regime – it clearly fears its people.”
While Iran continues to be rocked by protests and riots all over the country, they have also brought tensions into foreign policy. Iran has stated that they will supply drones and missiles to Russia to fight Ukraine and have even gone as far as sending Iranians to Crimea to teach the soldiers how to man the drones used to bomb buildings remotely. 2 types have been said to have been sent, one that can shoot arms up to 1000 miles away, and others that can be used to shoot missiles while simultaneously gather surveillance.
Russian arms have been drastically limited as many supply roads as possible for troops have been taken over by Ukrainian soldiers or bombed. Their strategy now seems to be systemically destroying the energy infrastructure before winter hits, giving the Russians an advantage as Ukrainian troops keep pushing them out of annexed regions.
For Tehran, they repeatedly denied selling any drones to Russia, but say they are fully entitled to do so, since the Iran Nuclear Deal expired in 2020 under former president Donald Trump’s reign. The United States, France, and the United Kingdom, however, say that the transfer of drones to Russia violates a UN Security Council Resolution. A meeting between the countries has not talked about what the plan is moving forward.
How To Help
One thing is clear, a revolution is happening, whether it has enough steam to topple the existing theocracy is too far away for anybody to speculate. These people are fighting for freedoms that we here in first world countries take for granted. In a show of solidarity from around the world, primarily women have been cutting their hair. While this gesture seems sincere, its help rings empty.
To help the people of Iran, the world has to offer something greater. Leaders can’t give backhanded promises in the hope that it all blows over or support a government that is hell bent on keeping these people down and killing teenagers.
Helping them starts by educating yourself and knowing you won’t forget what has happened to these girls. They aren’t just another statistic. For their families, they were daughters and sisters. Leaders in their community. They were just teenagers wanting a better life for themselves.
This revolution has been televised and it’s too late for us to change the channel. The government has proven time and time again that it doesn’t care about its people.
For the teenagers fighting, it's life or death. They want freedom, and they want them now.
They deserve hope. The hope is that only god can truly judge them, and not some man who believes he is one.
Support The Iranian Revolution
If you want to support the people of Iran, The Incognito Press have put together a list of resources for people to donate to.
Iran Rights - Helps document human rights violations in Iran and publishes them in both English and Farsi.
Iran Human Rights - Researches human rights abuses in Iran and helps to make sure the case is reported on. It offers an unbias view of what’s happening in the country and then helps make policy briefings for governments on the issue.
United for Iran - Helps Iranians gain access to technology to use for protests and the spread of information. It also tracks political prisoners in Iran to shed a light on their stories.
Human Rights Watch - Investigates abuses in Iran with the use of reporters, lawyers, and diplomats from all over the world.
Amnesty USA - Collecting evidence of the unlawful force used by the police which includes water cannons and beatings in the street.
Middle East Matters Organization - A youth-run organization that helps amplify human rights abuses in the middle east.
Remember when donating to any organization, beware of phone calls and emails that want donations and find out the non-profit’s track record of delivering aid to those in need. Charity Watch is a great resource to find out a charity’s rating and if it actually does what it’s supposed to.
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Ostovar, Afshon. “Iran's Revolutionary Guards Will Never Stand Down.” Foreign Policy, Foreign Policy, 18 Oct. 2022, https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/10/18/irans-revolutionary-guards-will-never-stand-down/.
Wintour, Patrick. “Iran Agrees to Supply Missiles as Well as Drones to Russia.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 Oct. 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/oct/18/iran-agrees-to-supply-missiles-as-well-as-drones-to-russia.
This piece was written by one of our current world events writers, Finnialla.
This piece was edited by one of our editors, Kayla-Jane Barrie. Reach them at @kj.poetrytherapy on Instagram!