Perth protests for Iranian women

Protesters show their solidarity with Iran holding homemade signs at a rally at Forrest Place on October 9, 2022.
Photo: Mehdi Ghatei

Worldwide outrage and protests continue in response to the death on September 16 of Mahsa Amini — also known as Zhina Amini — in a hospital in Tehran after being detained by police.

The 22-year-old Kurdish woman had been arrested on September 13 by the so-called “morality police” in Iran, according to a video produced by BBC News. The police claimed she was not wearing her hijab according to the method prescribed by the law. She collapsed in detention and died in hospital. Iran’s Forensic Organisation attributed her death to “underlying diseases”. 

This sparked a wave of outrage. People took to the streets protesting, showing their solidarity by burning their headscarves — or hijabs — and cutting off their hair in mourning. Social media blew up with videos of supporters shaving their own heads and speaking up on the issue.

Even in Australia, many people are rising to the occasion to try to help.

For the past six years, 47-year-old geotechnical engineer Mehdi Ghatei has been pouring effort into organising protests and doing humanitarian work for Iran. 

“The death of Mahsa Amini was a spark,” said Ghatei. “People have been protesting, but now these protests increase much more than before.”

His friend, Nasim Khoshdel, goes to his rallies regularly. “For a long time, anything like this that happened was dealt with in silence. So this is like a turning point for all of us,” she said. 

Ms Khoshdel added: “The emotions cannot be stopped anymore. People are out there in front of bullets saying they no longer want this government.”

The specific issue that they are protesting against, she said, is “not about being against wearing hijabs. This is about freedom of choice.”

In the same vein, Mr Ghatei said: “They are using this just to suppress people. They don’t want people to be free and achieve their goals.”

To fight back against the problem, Negar Almassi — another passionate activist — said Iranians have turned to the younger generation.

“I believe that the younger generation does not wish to be represented by people who treat them that way,” she said. “They are educated and enlightened enough to demand their basic rights as human beings.”

Ms Khoshdel felt the same way. “Fear is gone. They use the younger generation who are fearless. That’s the whole secret of this movement,” she said.

However, Ms Almassi added, more support is needed. 

“This is a hard feat to achieve by unarmed citizens protesting in the streets,” she said. “The movement needs international support to succeed. It needs recognition from world leaders to endorse the people of Iran and their demands.” 

Mr Ghatei calls for people to help by signing petitions, writing to Members of Parliament, and by attending rallies.

Most importantly, he said, “spread the word any way you can. There is no free media in Iran; they are asking us to be their voice, to reach the media and governments, to raise awareness.”

When asked if she feared pushback, Ms Khoshdel said with a laugh, “Oh yes. If they can kill a girl because of her hair, they can do anything. But that’s what they want. They want you to be fearful and silent.”

“There are two types of people,” she explained. “Those who bring everybody together, the ‘leaders’, and those who come and support the first type of people. To the government, the ‘leaders’ are more scary. They hate those people the most.” 

She and Mr Ghatei belong to the first category, having organised and attended many rallies despite potential backlash from the Iranian government.

“The revolution in Iran has already started,” Mr Ghatei said. “I can see the signs.”

Ms Almassi agreed, saying: “Iran is experiencing the biggest social uprising since the revolution of 1979.”

Ms Khoshdel added: “It may take a while, and it has a cost, but it is going in the right direction. I am very hopeful.”