Violence is flaring across Iran as anti-government protests enter their third month.
The unrest began in September after the death of a 22-year-old woman, detained by the country’s morality police after allegedly breaking strict headscarf rules. The demonstrations are an unprecedented challenge to the Islamic Republic.
Many demonstrators have died. In the Tehran province alone, Iran’s judiciary announced more than 1,000 indictments related to the protests, according to Amnesty International. The human rights organization says 21 detainees have been charged with offenses punishable by death.
University of Connecticut students are sounding the alarm on human rights violations. They have organized several protests on campus and one at the State Capitol, and have another planned next Wednesday.
“We are definitely witnessing a historic moment,” Rose Karvandi, a UConn senior who plans to attend next week’s protest, said.
Many demonstrators in New England are standing with the anti-government protesters in Iran.
“We’ve seen multiple uprisings in the past before, but nothing to this extent,” Sara, a grad student in Boston who grew up in Glastonbury, said. She does not want to share her last name for safety reasons.
Sara also plans to attend the upcoming protest on UConn’s campus.
“At this point, it is now or never,” she said.
Karvandi and Sara both grew up in Connecticut.
“My parents were born and raised in Iran. And they emigrated to the US in their 20s and 30s,” Karvandi said. “I still have family in Iran, and we worry about them every single day.”
Their family and cultural ties to Iran are strong.
“The lack of internet has made it hard for us to even check in with our family there. There have been weeks where we haven’t heard anything from them,” Sara said.
The wave of protests come after Mahsa Amini died, after being detained for allegedly violating hijab laws.
“Mahsa Amini was detained by the morality police…because her hijab was not worn correctly, some of her hair was showing, a very little bit of hair,” Karvandi said.
“Upon her release, she fell into a coma,” Sara added. “It is the thing that people really saw that said, ‘this is it, we are going to fight for our rights from this point on.’”
Amini’s story prompted Iranian women to take a stand.
“Women in Iran have been taking their head’s skirts scarfs off,” Sara said. “That is the ultimate sign of bravery to me, because that is basically them looking down in the barrel of a gun.”
At a protest on UConn’s campus in September, many women cut their own locks of hair.
“So powerful, because that is how much hair that Mahsa Amini was showing, and that’s why she’s dead today,” Karvandi said. “I know people who have been in Iran who have been detained by the morality police, but the only difference between them and Mahsa Amini is that they came out alive.”
However, Karvandi and Sara say the uprising runs much deeper.
“The protests aren’t against the hijab, it’s about having a choice to wear it,” Karvandi said. “The hijab is the symbol really of what’s happening there. But there are a lot of different issues going on in basically every aspect of society where people aren’t free to do what they want without fear of being murdered or jailed.”
Sara recalls one visit to Iran when she was 12.
“I do remember being in the airport upon entry, and they looked at me and said, ‘Why, why are you not wearing like a more covered suit, a more covered outfit?’” she said. “It was very trivial to me at that moment. I was too young to understand.”
They say the fight is for freedom in all walks of life that was lost with the 1979 revolution.
“These people are fighting so hard for something that they want that is so simple. Yet, it’s been 43 years since they haven’t had it,” Sara said.
As human rights organizations call on the Iranian government to release thousands of people arrested in connection to the protests, Karvandi and Sara believe this issue is relevant far beyond Iran’s borders.
“Even those who aren’t Persian or have any direct ties to Iran, if you care any bit about human rights and the right to exist, to breathe, to eat, to love who you love, to wear what you want, you should absolutely care about this,” Karvandi said.
UConn students are holding their next Campus Rally For Iran on Wednesday, Nov. 30 from noon to 1 p.m. It will be in the Husky Dog Area, 371 Fairfield Hall.
They invite the public to attend. More than 100 universities across the globe are holding similar rallies that day.
In the sports world, the Iran national men’s soccer team refused to sing the country’s national anthem before their match against England on Monday.