Iran: Tehran is a prison, Evin is a university
Despite the regime's efforts to obscure the protests and downsize their global appeal, it is evident that this revolution will not be stopped anytime soon
Protests have sparked in Iran ever since the 21st of September 2022, when Masha Aimini, a 22-year-old Kurd woman, died under uncertain circumstances while under custody of the morality police, after having been arrested because she was not wearing her veil properly.
This tragic event triggered the rage and dissatisfaction of the people, who started flooding the streets asking for justice. Many were killed by the violent reaction of the police, that is accused of having fired live ammunitions on the crowds, an accuse to which they have never owned up.
Several of the rioters were arrested, and the government announced that they would be publicly tried in the capital, Tehran. On the 13th of November, a protester has been condemned to death with the accuse of having set fire to a government building, while five more people were sentenced to prison with charges of threatening national security and public order violations.
However, these are just some of the most recent verdicts. Ever since the protests started, many human rights defenders, journalists, students, and lawyers have been arrested and locked up in the Evin prison in Iran, where a fire broke out October 15th. Currently, the prison has become one of the symbols of the rebellion denouncing the repressive nature of the regime, and the chant “Tehran is a prison, Evin is a university” has emerged as a response to the decision of the government to lock up those who dared to speak up.
The constant and brutal repression that is being enacted does not seem to be discouraging the protesters, that have been responding to the censorship and internet bans by raising their voice even more. But what have they been asking for?
The protest is polycentric and touches on several issues that have been relevant in the political history of Iran. The most general instance is the one of advocating for a regime change. People have been chanting “Death to the dictator”, hence encouraging the leader of the country, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to step down. This motto is a clear reinterpretation of the slogan that had been chanted in the 70s against Reza Pahlavi, “Death to the shah”. Interestingly, the mass is using the same slogans that had been used during the 1979 Islamic revolution, to express their resentment towards it. It was in fact this movement that was the root of the current regime, but its ideals are growing further from the needs of Iranians.
The protesters embody the growing anger against the increasing gender discrimination and inequality in society. This is emerging particularly through the politicizations of the hijab, a topic that is far from new. In Iran, this type of protests dates back all the way to the 1930s, when women were fighting the hijab ban. Now that the veil is no longer prohibited but rather an obligation, women are back in the streets, claiming their right to choose, supported by men that have been backing up their requests.
Some protesters have gone as far as engaging in “turban throwing”, knocking off the turban off the heads of clerics, an action which has created some division in the movement. The opposers of this practice argue that this treatment is not different from the one the clerics have reserved women over 40 years, as it still goes against the right to choose of this people. Despite the critics, it has been a powerful method to gather media attention.
A fundamental role in the protests has been played by the Kurd forces, considering that many of the victims for which the protests have sparked were of this ethnicity. Even though on paper Iran guarantees the Kurds equal rights, this has in fact not been the reality, as reported by several international organizations and NGOs such as Amnesty International.
For a long time now, leaders have been exploiting the ethnic divisions of the society and treating the Kurds as second-class citizens, a course of action to which the protesters have responded by promoting unity. The Kurdish militant party, the PKK, has been strongly involved in the protests and has united the protesters under the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom”. The various wings of the movement are in fact known to have a secular feminist ideology, with its feminist cadres being known worldwide for their efforts against the Islamic groups in Iran as well as Syria.
The reaction of the international community has been proactive, as the violence that is going on cannot be condoned. For instance, Amnesty International has defined this as a “brutal repression” and sanctions have been imposed from the EU, UK, and US.
Worldwide, the protests have awakened the interest and support of the young, who have been manifesting to support their Iranian counterparts. For instance, in France demonstrations have been organized in Paris, Toulouse and Lyon, advocating for the French government intervention to put pressure on the government to stop the violence and start a reform process. The response from French president Macron has not been slow to arrive, since he has expressed his support for the cause, stressed the need for European intervention and has recently met four Iranian women activists to listen to their demands.
Several reports have been published to make the public aware of the atrocities and encourage the Iranian government to put an end to this as soon as possible. According to a report of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, based on data as of October 18th, 2022, 23 children are supposed to have been killed, as schools have been raided. These numbers have allegedly increased in the following weeks, with human rights groups claiming that around 326 people have been killed, and around 29 children.
The intervention of the UN has not been positively welcomed by Iran, that has warned that the calling of a special meeting to discuss the issue would deteriorate the relationship of the country with the West. Diplomats have been sent to New York to promote what they defined as a correct narrative, as opposed to the one of the US. The Ayatollah has accused the United States and Israel, Iran’s archenemies, of having orchestrated these protests, even though there is no evidence supporting such claims.
Despite the efforts of Iran to obscure these protests and downsize their global appeal, it is evident that the protesters will not be stopped anytime soon. Now that Tehran has become a prison and the prison Evin has started to resemble a university, the importance of fighting for freedom has become too great to just give up. If the rest of the world keeps siding with Iran’s protesters and we do not let their claims slip by the wayside, their claims will become harder and harder to ignore, and some change might occur. Hopefully, before many more lives are claimed.