Woman, life, freedom: a year of protests in Iran

As the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death approaches, Iranian Montrealers reflect on one year of protests and uprising.

A year ago, in the weeks and months following the murder of Mahsa Amini in Iran, Pooya—then a graduate student at Concordia—was hopeful that this event and the protests that followed might be the spark needed to finally bring about change in his home country of Iran.

“Last year, I was personally thinking that this time is the time that something good will happen,” he recalled. “A hope was in our heart and our mind that a change will occur. But right now, when I’m talking to you right now, after almost one year, I’m devastated.”

Pooya, who asked his last name to be withheld for safety reasons, said he has lost hope that the people of Iran have the power to change the regime. His parents and sister, who still live in Iran, recently got work permits and are planning on moving to Canada this fall. “I don’t want them to stay in Iran anymore,” said Pooya. 

On Sept. 16, 2022, Mahsa Amini was arrested by Iran’s “morality police” for wearing her hijab incorrectly. She later died in custody, and witnesses claim she was beaten by officers. Her death sparked protests throughout Iran and the world. 

According to Amnesty International, more than 22 thousand people have been arrested in Iran in relation to the protests, including over 90 reporters and 60 lawyers. Seven people have been executed for their involvement in the protests, hundreds more were killed and thousands injured during protests. 

Despite all this, the chant of “Woman, life, freedom” still rings through the streets and on social media. 

For Forough Fereydouni, psychology student at Concordia and Iranian community activist, there is still a lot of hope in the movement. She said their biggest achievement is the widespread awareness of women’s situation in Iran. The fight isn’t over, and women in Iran are still protesting despite the risks.

“They know the Islamic Republic is going to arrest them, charge them, put them in jail,” said Fereydouni. “And they know suppression is very brutal. But these women are fighting for their rights.”

In the last few months, the regime’s crackdown on protesters has gotten even worse. “They are arresting activists very widely, many activists. They are [charging] them without any logical reason, they are suppressing women in the street very strictly,” said Fereydouni. “They are making themselves ready for the anniversary. They want to scare people.”

Aboozar Beheshti, a Concordia-graduated Iranian activist in Montreal, pointed out that protesting is almost impossible in Iran. “It is not possible to be there in the street and not be attacked by the police,” he said. “And when I say attack, it means attack. It means brutal attack, arrest, charges, prison.”

For Pooya, his hopelessness does not come from a feeling of having missed a chance to change the Iranian regime. It is a question of whether there was any chance to begin with. “I don’t think it’s possible to change the regime only by counting on the powers of people,” he said. “The people do not have guns, government have guns, and it’s a simple equation. They have guns. They kill.”

Despite these setbacks, both Fereydouni and Beheshti believe the movement against the regime can still change things in Iran. The activists explained that now that public awareness has been achieved, they are one step closer to their goal. 

“This new generation in Iran is different,” said Beheshti. “They don’t tolerate suppression. They are very brave. I could not imagine even that something like this [would] happen. They go ahead, they go in front of the bullets, they go in front of the police and they aren’t scared of anything.”

Fereydouni is grateful that the movement remains strong on social media when it is too dangerous for Iranians to take it to the streets. “Yes, we have a long way in front of us,” she said. “Imagine a day every woman, not just activists, fights for her rights, against mandatory hijab—how beautiful that would be.”


Concordia’s Iranian community demands better support from the University 

Fora Fereydoumi at the Freedom for Iran rally. HANNAH TIONGSON/The Concordian

The Iranian Student Association of Concordia University is calling out the University for lack of support amid protests in Iran

Last month, Iran’s morality police arrested 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for not wearing a hijab. Amini died several days later while in custody, and many Iranians believe she was killed due to police violence. Her death triggered worldwide protests denouncing the Iranian regime. 

As demonstrations continue to take place in Montreal, many Montrealers are helping organize and raise awareness. The Iranian Student Association of Concordia University (ISACU) is proactively spreading the word but demands more support from the University. 

ISACU is a cultural club at Concordia, part of the International and Ethnic Associations Council (IEAC). Shayan Asgharian, president of the club, shared his frustration and disappointment with the lack of funding. 

“We’re a cultural club. We barely get the funding for doing things like this. So everything we’re doing right now is almost out of pocket,” Asgharian explained. 

“The IEAC has been more than slow in returning our money. We’ve made banners for protests, we’ve made posters, everything you can think of, and they’ve been horrible at returning our money,” he added. 

Asgharian explained the lack of funding is worrisome for international students with limited access to money due to the current strikes in Iran. Since the death of Amini, Iranians have been striking every day and leaving their jobs, making it difficult for Iranian parents to support their children abroad financially. 

A solution proposed by Asgharian is to divide tuition fees into segments for international students. Asgharian brought this up to Concordia’s Dean of Students Andrew Woodall in an email but was not acknowledged. 

“Many students have had no contact with their family members, and [for] over a week due to the government’s shutting down the country’s internet. The shutting down of the country’s internet has also caused all international students to lose access to their banks in Iran,” Asgharian wrote.

“Therefore, paying tuition for them has become extremely hard. I was wondering if it would be possible to extend the date of the tuition deadline and even maybe divide the tuition into segments for students to be able to pay their tuition off easier,” he added. 

Another request was better mental health support.

“We’ve all been really distraught […] by the current events in Iran. It feels like watching a genocide happening live in your country. There is no word to describe it,” said Daria Almasi, a member of ISACU. 

Fora Fereydoumi, another member of ISACU, emphasized the need for better mental health support, specifically for Iranian students. 

Earlier last week, the International Student Office (ISO) sent a letter to students of Iranian nationality to offer support and resources. A notice of support for Iranian students, faculty and staff was posted on Carrefour and the Student Hub. 

“We appreciate the accommodation that the University offered to Iranian students in Concordia, but most of them are always open to all students. There is not something extra for Iranians,” said Fereydoumi. 

Aboozar Beheshti, another member of ISACU, suggested that psychological services be provided in Farsi, the spoken language in Iran, to encourage Iranian students to communicate and express their thoughts. 

Beheshti also asked the University to support the Iranian community the same way they supported the Ukrainian community. 

“The Ukraine [war] did not [happen too long ago]. You know, it was just a few months ago. We can take it as an example of how the University tried to [raise] awareness and how the University tried to reach people to offer support,” said Beheshti. 

Regardless of their current busy schedules, Asgharian, Almasi, Fereydoumi, and Beheshti all attended the Freedom Rally for Iran last Saturday, Oct. 1, in front of McGill University. 

Saman Abolfathi is marching at the Freedom for Iran rally. HANNAH TIONGSON/The Concordian

Saman Abolfathi, a fourth-year psychology student, participated in the demonstration and raised similar concerns that members of ISACU did. 

“I believe Concordia should have an official statement about what’s going on in Iran. Why [are] Concordia administrators and directors silent about it?” Abolfathi asked. 

For international students like Abolfathi, exams and assignments are the least of their worries. 

“I’m trying to help the organization of this protest, and every time I tried to contact my professors about it, they didn’t care that much, or maybe they did care, but they were like, ‘I cannot do anything for you,’ ” Abolfathi explained. 

Protestors at the Freedom of Iran rally. HANNAH TIONGSON/The Concordian

While Concordia tries its best to support Iranian students and raise awareness, Montrealers were united as thousands gathered and marched for the Freedom Rally for Iran. 

Among the many different women who delivered speeches was Alia Hassan-Cournol, elected official of the City of Montreal and associate councillor of Mayor Valérie Plante. Hassan-Cournol was present to share a word on behalf of Plante. 

“We’re proud to see you fight for women’s rights, for freedom. So keep on doing that. Montreal is behind you guys,” said Hassan-Cournol. 

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