Mahsa Amini’s death – A breakdown of events leading up to the revolution in Iran

Iran Protests: These demonstrations have slowly taken the shape of a broadly supportive and strong movement in Iran in decades. Here’s a systematic breakdown of events leading up to Iran’s current scenario.

Protests in Iran | Iran Protests | Mahsa Amini
Despite the social media shutdown, videos of widespread unrest have continued to emerge online. (Image Source: Reuters)

Protests in Iran: It’s been more than 100 days since Mahsa Amini’s death in the custody of Iran’s morality police triggered protests across the country. It’s been over 100 days since Iran witnessed an uprising with women burning their hijabs and chopping their hair on the streets. It’s been over 100 days since the people of Iran have been chanting “Woman, Life, Freedom” in unison. It’s been over 100 days of unrest and a 100 days of Iranian authorities refusing to concede.

Despite the social media shutdown, videos of widespread unrest have continued to emerge online. The protests, majorly being led by women, are calling for an end to the theocratic rule in Iran. These demonstrations have slowly taken the shape of a broadly supportive and strong movement in Iran in decades. Here’s a systematic breakdown of events leading up to Iran’s current scenario. Let’s dive in.

Iran protests: The Beginning

Mahsa Amini was arrested on September 13 by Iran’s Guidance Patrol, which is also known as the morality police. The reason behind the arrest was Mahsa’s “bad hijab”, meaning, she was wearing the hijab in an improper way. Mahsa was later admitted to the ICU due to the injuries she sustained after facing harassment by the morality police. A picture of Mahsa lying unconscious on a hospital bed soon went viral and immediately sparked anger and agitation in her hometown. Later, her medical records were leaked that showed her skull was fractured. This led to further agitations across Iran.

Demonstrations turn into widespread protests

A day after Amini’s death on Sept 16th, 2022, the funeral was held in her hometown of Saqqez on Sept 17th. The mourners, who had gathered to pay their respects, slowly began taking off their headscarves. The funeral then quickly turned into a protest site with chants of “death to the dictator” being heard loud and clear. The demonstrations then spread to the University of Tehran where people were heard shouting slogans of “woman, life, freedom.” The protests intensified as security forces and demonstrators clashed in various cities of Iran including Rasht, Tehran, Isfahan, and Mashhad.  

The inevitable social media shutdown

As protests expanded across the country, mobile internet was shut down and domestic internet was disrupted. Looking at the growing number of demonstrations, Iranian authorities also took the decision of curbing access to social media. Around Sept 21, 2022, restricted access was given to social media platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram. The same day, reports of officials confirming multiple deaths in protests surfaced online. Despite the shutdown, the protests turned into a revolt by agitated Iranians from all walks of society, posing one of the boldest challenges to the political leadership since the 1979 revolution.

What did Iranian leaders do?

There is no denying that these protests are the biggest protests the Iranian leaders have witnessed in over 3 decades. This is probably why the leaders are having a hard time accepting the situation, delaying resolving the matter further. Khamenei, the Supreme leader of Iran, had accused Israel and the US of instigating “riots” in an attempt to destabilize Iran as a country. He had also expressed his condolences for Amini but he also said that he did not approve of the widespread demonstrations that were being held by the people. Even the president, Ebrahim Raisi had stated that the death of Amini had “saddened” the Islamic Republic, but at the same time warned that the “chaos” which is being created amid violent protests cannot be accepted. Despite this, the protests continued which even the security forces couldn’t get a grip on. In fact, the videos that surfaced online showed people chanting “Death to the dictator”.

The crucial role of Iran’s sports community

Iran’s sports community wasn’t behind in raising their voices in unison and protesting against Amini’s unjust death. In the most recent incident at the FIFA World Cup 2022, Iran’s players did not sing their national anthem before their first game against England. This was in apparent support for the anti-government protests happening in their homeland. While England won the match, the message from Iran’s team was loud and clear. The match was taking place at a time when security forces had begun firing at people who were seen taking part in protests, mostly in Kurdish cities – Javanrud and Piranshahr.

On November 17, Iran announced the death of Colonel Esmael Cheraghi which occurred due to violence that broke out during the protests. Three days later, the authorities released a video showing three “confessions” taking the blame for the death of the Colonel, reported The Indian Express. While the authorities did not reveal the names of the accused, one of the three bore a strong resemblance to Nasr-Azadani. News website IranWire released a story on Dec 11 which reported that Iran’s judicial system had planned to hang Iranian footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani for a crime it calls “moharebeh”, which loosely means “waging war against God.” Under Iranian laws, “moharebeh” leads to a death sentence. Despite this, there has been a plethora of support from the sports community of Iran which has garnered worldwide attention.

How did the world react?  

What started as a reaction to Amini’s death, has since expanded beyond the initial demands for increased rights for women — most calling for the end of the Islamic Republic. The United States has time and again implemented a fierce crackdown and created pressure on Tehran. The US has imposed sanctions on top Iranian officials including the prosecutor general and key military officials due to the ongoing anti-hijab protests. As per Reuters, Washington also imposed sanctions on Iranian company, Imen Sanat Zaman Fara. The company allegedly makes equipment for Tehran’s Law Enforcement Forces. The UN Human Rights Council had also voted to condemn the Iranian government’s crackdown on the peaceful protests. The United Nations’ top human rights official had also urged the Iran government to stop the crackdown against the protesters. Tehran’s envoy, however, was defiant and unbowed.

The shocking executions

Amidst global criticism, the Iranian government executed Mohsen Shekari, a young man who was convicted of allegedly attacking one of the members of the Iranian security forces during the nationwide protests. Shekari’s death penalty was the first to be carried out by the government against an individual involved in the protests. On Dec 12, the Iranian authorities carried out a second execution in which they publicly hanged a man who was convicted of killing two members of the security forces. Activists have repeatedly warned that at least a dozen people have already been sentenced to death in closed-door hearings. According to Human Rights Activists in Iran, at least 488 people have been killed since the protests began in September, reported IE.

Looking at the current scenario, it is hard to digest the fact that there was a time when the hijab was actually banned in Iran. In 1936, when Reza Shah Pahlavi was reigning, the hijab was banned in an effort to “modernise” the country, an IE report said. The police would actually go around and remove hijabs from the heads of women who were seen donning them in public. Over the years, the morality rules that are enforced have varied according to the nature of the regime in Iran. As of now, Iranian authorities have refused to consider or concede to any of the demands being raised by the people in the ongoing protests.

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First published on: 23-12-2022 at 16:06 IST