The Iranian community of Montreal organized a second demonstration on Sept. 24 after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody for wearing her hijab too loosely.
This article was originally published online and in print (Issue 3, Oct. 6) with an illustration of a woman wearing a hijab, which was later deemed to be inappropriate given the context of the article. We realized that placing this image in context with this story was insensitive and possibly offensive to some readers, and have since replaced it with a more appropriate image.
Iran has been overtaken by social unrest in the last few days following the murder of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman died on Sept. 16, after having been arrested by the Iranian morality police for violating the state’s strict dress code by wearing her hijab incorrectly.
Following Amini’s death, protests have swept through Iran against the current authoritarian regime. Groups of Iranian women have been burning their hijabs and cutting their hair to protest the state-mandated control of their bodies.
Iranian state authorities have responded to the protests with strong repression, including an Internet shutdown to prevent Iranians from communicating outside of the country.
In spite of these measures, these protests have sparked an international movement of support among the Iranian diaspora.
Shayan Asgharian, president of the Iranian Student Association of Concordia University (ISACU), explained that these strong demonstrations are the sign of an uprising in Iran.
“The internet has been cut so we have relatively no access to our friends and family in Iran,” said Asgharian. “The people are out in the streets and they’re angrier than ever.”
On Saturday Sept. 24, Montreal’s Iranian community gathered for a second protest organized by ISACU.
Protesters stood at the intersection of de Maisonneuve Blvd. and Guy St. carrying signs that read “Women, life, freedom” and “#MahsaAmini”. According to Asgharian, around 6,000 people attended the protest.
“Around 10 per cent of Iranian people live outside of Iran,” explained Asgharian. “The diaspora has been more than vocal. In Montreal, in New York, in Toronto, in Berlin. In London the English police had to hold Iranian protesters from invading the Iranian embassy.”
Aida Naji, an Iranian refugee, was among the protestors on Saturday.
“I cut my hair for them, for Mahsa Amini,” said Naji. “She’s Kurdish, I’m half Kurdish too but it doesn’t matter where I’m from, I’m Iranian.”
Along with the other protesters, Naji chanted slogans in Farsi, French and English. “I’m a refugee here, I cannot go back but I’m here for my people,” said Naji.
Manijeh, an Iranian refugee living in Canada for over thirty years, was eager to talk about the protest but wanted to keep her last name anonymous. “There is this regime around the people, you understand it is a fascist government,” she said.
She explained that she was forced to leave her country after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that ushered the Islamic Republic of Iran into power.
“After this regime came to power they started killing people, torturing people, putting people in prison so we had no other choice than to escape from the government and lose everything,” explained Manijeh.
Like many other Iranians living abroad, she and her loved ones decided to join the rising protests. “We are here to protest against what happened to this beautiful young woman that was killed just because she didn’t put on her hijab perfectly,” said Manijeh.
Asgharian believes that the anger felt during the protest has been building up for over 40 years, and that this is the first time the Iranian people are expressing this contestation towards the regime.
“The Iranian people have been malcontent but it is like a cup of water: one drop makes it overflow,” explained Asgharian.
Since the beginning of the protest movement, at least 50 protesters have been killed, according to the NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR). Nevertheless, Iranians are still taking to the streets.
“It seems like it is leading towards a full scale revolution,” said Asgharian. “We’re either gonna see some changes within the regime or in general. I think the regime can’t go back to the way that it was.”