By Mehul Chopra
The Iranian revolution of 1979: a brief history
Iran, known for its rich history and ancient civilization, has had its fair share of uprisings, invasions, and revolutions. The 1979 Iranian revolution stands out as a pivotal moment in the nation’s history which fundamentally altered its societal fabric. The toppling of the Pahlavi dynasty was a sea change in Iran which gave way to an Islamic republic under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini. While the revolution aimed to free Iran from perceived Westernization, it also introduced a new set of challenges. Iran transformed into a totalitarian regime which was accompanied by repercussions for individuals’ rights and liberties. A series of changes were implemented. This included women being compelled to wear the hijab, the banning of Western music and cinema, and outright suppression of political dissent. The regime change marked a drastic shift in Iran’s social paradigm.
The death of Mahsa Amini: a catalyst for resistance
On the 16th of September 2022, a young woman named Mahsa Amini died in a hospital in Tehran. A few days prior to her death, Mahsa Amini had been arrested by Iran’s morality police for refusing to wear her hijab in a public place. Iranian authorities deny having any involvement in her death. However, the general consensus is that Mahsa Amini was severely beaten whilst in police custody which subsequently led to her death. The death of Mahsa Amini became a symbol of state brutality, and her martyrdom ignited widespread protests in all 31 provinces in Iran. Protests had not been uncommon in Iran, yet these protests were different as they marked a direct opposition to the human rights violations committed by the regime instead of being a demonstration about economic grievances. Furthermore, Amini was part of the Kurdish and Sunni minority, groups typically marginalized and discriminated against. Nevertheless, the Iranian public stood united in solidarity.
The youth has been the driving force of this resistance, with demonstrations taking place in schools and universities as well as the streets of Iran. Students have walked out of their classrooms in protest and any segregation between boys and girls imposed by Iranian authorities has been abandoned. It is important to note that people of all age demographics have taken part in forms of resistance that undermine the regime. As anger brews all over the country, university professors and teachers stand alongside their students, journalists publish dissent against the regime, and riots ensue in prisons. Furthermore, women have played a crucial role in fuelling the protests. Opposing Iran’s forced hijab policy, women removed their headscarves and burned them in protest. Many women have also been seen to appear in public without headscarves, putting their own lives at risk in support of their cause.
The use of excessive force to crush the spirit of resistance
In response to the protests, the Iranian leadership did not make any concessions to the protesters, rather it sought to double down on repressive tactics in order to destroy the spirit of the resistance. In merely a month after the protests unfolded, Iran’s security forces have reportedly killed at least 215 people, including 27 children. Iran’s revolutionary guard was instructed to use any and all force necessary to quell the protests and as a result, many protesters have been shot dead in the streets. In addition, the Iranian government have simultaneously implemented non-violent measures to disrupt the protests. Net blockers have been introduced to disrupt internet services, preventing the organization and planning of protests. International social media platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp were banned, and internet disruptions became a common feature of life in Iran.
Furthermore, thousands have been arrested for their involvement in protests, with multiple reports of individuals having suspiciously died under police custody. The most shocking part of Iran’s crackdown on protesters is that it has not even spared school children, as evidenced by various young girls being arrested. Asra Panahi, a 16-year-old schoolgirl, was beaten to death by Iran’s security forces for refusing to sing a song praising the regime. Additionally, Sarina Esmailzadeh, a 16-year-old YouTube personality, was beaten to death while attending a protest. The use of the death penalty also signals a fundamental violation of justice and human rights as protesters have undergone false trials sentencing them to death. Executions have been carried out publicly to make a spectacle designed to intimidate and deter any future protesters. Nevertheless, the people of Iran have persevered, a testament to their resilience and unwavering determination in the face of brutal repression.
The current situation and the role of the international community
A year after the death of Mahsa Amini, the situation in Iran remains bleak and the people continue to suffer. The regime has stood firm and refused to implement any significant reforms to its repressive policies. The issue of the forced hijab which was at the epicenter of the initial protests remains in place. Iranian authorities are using smart cameras to catch violators, the morality police have been redeployed in the streets, and internet access continues to be heavily restricted. It is the duty of the international community to support the people in Iran in their fight for justice. The US, Canada, and the UK have taken collective action to impose sanctions on high-ranking Iranian officials by freezing individuals’ assets in the West and restricting their access to financial institutions. However, a recent agreement between the US and Iran has meant that the US will allow Iran access to $6bn in frozen assets in exchange for 5 US citizens being released from Iranian prisons. While this exchange is a step back for the Iranian people, it is pertinent that the international community continues to stand by them. The Western world must continue to pressure Iranian leadership to stop their human rights abuses through financial sanctions on high-ranking Iranian officials and other means.