“Take off your headscarf, let your hair flow, don’t be afraid my love. Laugh, protest against fear.” In opening a panel discussion titled “The Masha Amini Protests and the Road Ahead for Iran,” Holly Dagres of the Atlantic Council quoted those defiant lyrics in a new popular song by Iranian Pop singer Mehdi Yarrahi titled Roosarito [Your Headscarf].
A panel of experts on September 15 along with one of the protest victims examined the upheaval of the past year and Iran’s future. Street protests broke out in the aftermath of the brutal killing of 22-year-old Masha “Jina”Amini, a Kurdish woman who had been visiting northern Tehran when she was arrested while exiting a METRO station by the so-called Morality Police for wearing her hijab improperly. Her arrest and death while in police custody has since that time become the fuel of women burning hijabs and cutting their hair short in defiance and resistance to the theocratic regime.
Major protests are set to take place in Iran and across the world on the one-year anniversary of her death on September 16. In Iran, the ruling Mullahs have been utilizing several means to quell any dissent. Dagres said “Authorities have also intimidated and interrogated Amini’s father, [warning] him not to have a memorial for his daughter on the first anniversary of her death.” While massive overt demonstrations have abated in Iran, she noted that women continue to protest “in the most simple of ways, like rollerblading in the street with graffiti on walls and with chants from windows of ‘ Khamenei is a murderer and his guardianship is invalid.’”
Under Secretary of Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, Department of State, Uzra Zeya revealed for the first time that “I am proud to share that today in coordination with our allies we are announcing twenty-nine additional sanctions designations against Iranian officials and entities connected to serious human rights abuses against ordinary Iranian citizens and the restrictions of the free flow of information. These sanctions seal off those individuals and entities from the US financial system and they also ensure that the perpetrators of human rights abuses do not remain anonymous. We have also taken steps to impose further visa restrictions…on thirteen Iranian officials who are responsible for or are complicit in the abuse, detention or killing of peaceful protesters.”
Moderator Roxana Saberi, a CBS News correspondent who was jailed in Iran for 100 days on trumped up espionage charges, introduced remote guest Mersedeh Shahinkar, who, speaking from Germany told of her ordeal when in October of last year while peacefully demonstrating, was shot in the eye intentionally by police using a paintball gun and was half-blinded as a result. This is a frequent practice deployed against many protesters by the authorities to cause permanent injury. She reflected on her eye injury and those of others by referring to the eye as “the bodies most important organ.” After losing her sight in one eye and having been harassed by police who broke into her home, she and her daughter fled Iran to seek safety and treatment elsewhere.
Shahinkar went further in commenting on the new sanctions just announced by Under Secretary Zeya and the Biden administration’s issuance of a blanket waiver for international banks to release $6 billion of frozen Iranian money to Iran. “I am just hearing in the news that America is paying six billion dollars for releasing hostages from Iran,” she said. “If this huge amount of money goes into the hands of the Islamic Republic, that regime goes and buys guns from other countries and uses against its own people. This is horrifying and when people see this it just devastates them. They know and they think that nobody is behind them. These sanctions are just empty words, these are not practical movements to help these people during this time and this is very disheartening.”
Iranian journalist Khosro Kalbasi Isfahani told of the government “dispatching heavy military forces” and equipment in the last week in the Kurdish region of Iran ahead of any unrest marking the first anniversary of Masha Amini’s death. The effect of this deployment he said “has imposed martial law in Kurdish regions in Iran. He went on to note that the deployment of tanks and missile launchers on the border with Iraq would be used to “take revenge on the people of Kurdistan if something happens.”
As one of three young high school girls in 2003, Shukriya M. Bradost an Iranian-Kurdish Middle Eastern security analyst and lawyer helped establish the group, Woman, Life, Freedom based on the phrase used by the Kurdish women’s movement of the late 20th century. She is credited with sending Starlink internet satellite equipment to Iran in helping people gain access to the internet for sending and receiving information into and out of the country.
Panelist Roya Boroumand, an expert on executions and documenting executions in Iran, stated that she has “documented 495 protest related deaths and more than 20,00 arrested,” ahead of the first anniversary of Amini’s death and the expected protests the regime is concerned about that will take place. “In the past two months every single family who has lost a loved one has been summoned, received repeated phone calls, [or had] their home invaded” so they would not “ commemorate their loved ones,” she noted. Additionally, over 3,100 students have been “punished or warned or suspended from universities or summoned by Intelligence and 292 have been arrested in the past two months,” she said. “There is a systematic attempt to prevent people from coming out to be in this protest. People are committed not to go back to their chains.”
Isfahani noted that “The legacy of four decades of the Islamic Republic has been pain…the people in Iran have found a new identity, a new core that has brought them together. What happened with Jina’s [Masha’s] death that’s [a] historic moment. It gave birth to a new nation.”
Photo by Phil Pasquini
Phil Pasquini is a freelance journalist and photographer. His reports and photographs appear in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pakistan Link and Nuze.ink. He is the author of Domes, Arches and Minarets: A History of Islamic-Inspired Buildings in America.
(This article has appeared in Nuzeink)
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