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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.”

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