With the persistent nationwide protests in Iran, the regime faces constant global backlash as security forces purportedly continue suppressing the protestors. The state-wide demonstrations have been sparked by the suspicious death of Mahsa Amini, who was detained by the morality police, formally known as “Gasht-e-Ershad“, for wearing her headscarf inaptly. The protestors have accused the security forces of killing her, but authorities have denied this allegation. Since the 1979 revolution, women have been mandated to wear a hijab in public. But in 2017, the regime showed leniency regarding hijab rules as stated by General Hussein Rahimi, “Women will no longer be taken to detention centres, nor will judicial cases be filed against them”. Nevertheless, Iran continues to witness the chaos that precipitated following the government’s strict reinforcement of women’s hijab rules during the Mahsa Amini episode.
The government’s response to this incident has aggravated the situation countrywide and grasped international attention. The use of excessive force against people demanding their rights has raised concerns internationally. Considering it to be a violation of women’s rights, the United States (US) initiated a relevant motion in the United Nations (UN), with 29 members of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) voting in favour of the resolution. Consequently, on 14 December 2022, Iran became the first country to be ousted from the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The international community has expressed concern regarding the Iranian regime’s handling of the issue and its use of violent means against its citizens. However, tagging it as an unlawful action by the US, the Iranian government has clearly rejected the UN resolution.
The struggle for social freedom is not novel in Iran. For the past few years, Iran’s track record in human rights protection has not been satisfactory. According to the 2021 report of the US State Department, extrajudicial killings, death penalties, ill-treatment, and repression of socio-religious liberty have undeniably increased in number. In the ongoing demonstrations, nearly 529 people have been killed, 20,000 have been detained, and about 107 have been sentenced to death or charged with capital offences, as reported by the Human Rights Activists’ News Agency (HRANA). Four persons associated with the protests have also been executed by the Iranian government.
The struggle for social freedom is not novel in Iran. For the past few years, Iran’s track record in human rights protection has not been satisfactory.
On the other hand, freedom activists in Iran have mobilised, and public figures have risked their lives and status while blatantly supporting the vision of protestors. Many of them have either been executed or imprisoned. In September, while keeping the protestors in Ghouchan city, a volleyball player Ali Mozaffari was shot dead by the security forces in Iran. Another football player Mohammad Ghaemifar was killed, and his family was pressured not to break the news in public. The Supreme Leadership of Iran, downplaying the nationwide rebellion and turmoil, have accused the US and the West of instigating countrywide riots to spread unrest in the state. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has named these protests a foreign conspiracy and foreign intervention by the US.
Likewise, blocking and restricting social media networking has seemingly become another tool of the regime to overshadow the social outrage halting the freedom of expression. While dissenting online to secure and safeguard their fundamental rights, protesters have accused authorities of deleting their posts on social media accounts. In response to social media campaigns to safeguard the freedom and liberty of people, the regime imposed a widespread internet shutdown and restricted internet access. Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, the two journalists reporting the incident of Mahsa’s killing, have been charged by the Iranian officials as foreign agents of the CIA and thus arrested by the authorities.
As reported by the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, Iran is ranked among the ten worst countries for media freedom and journalists, one of the most suppressive ones. As entitled in the constitution, the right of press freedom and liberty to freely express one’s point of view is guaranteed to every individual in the state. Iranians are trying to rebel against restrictions on their freedom of expression. In September 2022, the Iranian President vowed to deal authoritatively with people threatening state security and peace.
The prevailing situation has worsened the diplomatic relations of Iran with the US and other European states, as the West seemingly considers it unacceptable to deprive people of expressing their fundamental rights. The UN and European Union have urged Iran to stop executions, death penalties and violent means to counter the uprising. Iran, in response, has labelled it as a political move by the West and considered them incapable of dictating on human rights protection, referring to their track record of human rights violations.
Nevertheless, neither the local protestors nor the international observers are ready to comply with such a life-threatening implementation of hijab, even by an Islamic country. No state or legal framework should allow any institution or individual to threaten the lives of citizens in the name of morality, dignity or ethnic policing. Though Iran has abolished the morality police following the protests, the state still largely considers the protests as a result of a foreign agenda rather than due to local grievances. Given the state oppression, the protests might have reduced in intensity in recent weeks, but the masses believe that the reason for their outrage has still not been addressed in its entirety.