A year after Mahsa Amini's death from police brutality, what's changed for Iran's women?
On September 16, 2022, nationwide protests erupted in Iran with the slogan "woman, life, freedom" following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody.
This September 16th marks a year since the death of 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, which triggered a series of protests all over the country. The protests were one of the biggest political crises in Iran since the revolution of 1979.
As we reach the first anniversary of her untimely and unjust death, what's changed in Iran after the protests, especially for its women?
What started the protests?
On September 16, 2022, nationwide protests erupted in Iran with the slogan "woman, life, freedom" following the death of Amini in police custody.
She was arrested a day before by Iran's 'Guidance Patrol', popularly known as the morality police, for breaking the country's dress code, which requires women to wear hijab, dress modestly and cover their head and neck.
As per various witness reports by women who were arrested with her, she was brutally beaten by the police and eventually fell into a coma before dying at the hospital the very next day. Even though the law enforcement command of Iran denied the allegations, people took to the streets to seek justice for Amini.
The protests started hours after her death at the hospital where she was treated and quickly spread to the entire country starting from her hometown of Saqqez. Women in the theocracy took to the streets to show their decades-long frustration. Most of them took off their headscarves as a protest and burnt them. The protesters called for the dismissal of the morality police, the removal of the strict dress code put in place by the theocracy and justice for Amini.
How were they suppressed?
As soon as the protests started spreading to more provinces outside Amini's hometown and the capital city, the government of Iran imposed a nationwide internet blackout to curb the protesters' access to social media.
Iranian authorities restricted media coverage of the protests. Only reports from state-linked media were allowed and they have still not provided the exact number of people who died during the protests or were illegally detained by the police.
A video released on social media shows a military convoy heading toward the Iranian city of Saqqez, the birthplace of Mahsa Amini, as security forces move to preempt protests on the eve of the anniversary of her death in morality police custody.https://t.co/wjQLkwZ3E8 pic.twitter.com/n7QidYsNkJ— Iran International English (@IranIntl_En) September 12, 2023
Among the detainees were prominent activists, actors, journalists, and athletes including footballer Hossein Mahini, poet and songwriter Sara Borzouei and photojournalist Aria Jafari.
During the four-month-long protests, state-sponsored media reports were one-sided and largely focused on messages of the supreme leader and the government's claim that the protests were sponsored by enemy nations.
A few months after the protests started, an Iranian general said that over 300 people had been killed across the country until then. However, Human Rights Watch estimates that the real toll is far more, putting it at 500 of which 69 are children.
In their World Report 2023, Human Rights Watch stated that during their clampdown on the protests, Iran had used lethal force on the protesters. It said the government, headed by supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini, has "imprisoned hundreds of activists on dubious charges, and issued death sentences in grossly unfair trials."
Human Rights Watch further claimed that they have documented the Iranian security forces using lethal weapons against protesters, while they were in largely peaceful and often crowded settings.
What has changed?
Despite the initial difficulties, the theocracy still heavily controls the economically troubled nation.
While the morality police were called off for a few months during the peak of the protests, they have since reappeared on the Iranian streets and their surveillance is stronger than ever.
The regime's crackdown on the protesters was a success to an extent since they managed to reclaim their authority. They have also made sure that the protesters were punished for what the supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini called civil disobedience and rioting.
To date, twenty-five protesters have been sentenced to death, following the unrest.
Iranian media reported that more surveillance cameras were installed across public spaces to identify women who fail to wear headscarves and penalise them.
The Iranian government has come up with a new set of rules and restrictions including banning women who refuse to wear headscarves from working in both public and private sectors. The exile of top Iran chess player Sara Khadem for refusing to wear a headscarf during an international competition was an example of how far Iran was willing to go to keep women in the country in check and deny them freedom.
In the weeks leading up to the anniversary of Amini's death, authorities of Iran are considering implementing a law that could put women in the country behind bars for up to 10 years if they break the hijab law, which the UN described as the "gender apartheid" law.
In a recent article, The Guardian wrote that the newly drafted law proposes stricter dress code regulations and the prison sentence is similar to that for murder and drug trafficking.
The report says, "The hijab and chastity bill details punishments including more than 60 lashes, heavy fines and prison terms. It also warns businesses of closure and other serious consequences if found to be providing services to women with “improper dress code”."
Islamic Republic of Iran agents are harassing and detaining family members of victims of state violence.— IranHumanRights.org (@ICHRI) September 13, 2023
Latest: Amjad Amini, father of Mahsa Jina Amini, whose killing in Iranian state custody spurred major anti-state protests, was summoned to the Ministry of Intelligence in the… pic.twitter.com/UiVvWxTYMB
The law also gives more power to the morality police and widens gender segregation in Iranian society.
According to various media reports, Iranian authorities have set up checkpoints to detain people who are preparing to protest on the anniversary of Amini's death, with the theocracy trying hard to avoid a second wave of unrest.
However, despite all the efforts of the Iranian government, a collective voice has emerged in Iranian society, especially among women. Since the protests last year, the perspective of Iranian society toward women's rights and their freedom has changed. The protests, in a sense, have helped them gain their voice.
Women and girls in Iran are still showing their strength by taking off their headscarves and showing that they are no longer afraid.