09/12/2023, 15.32
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One year after Mahsa Amini’s death, Iran’s clerical regime continues to arrest and censor

by Dario Salvi

Tensions are running high in Iran at the approach of the first anniversary of the death by the regime’s morality police of the 22-year-old Kurdish woman. Last weekend, authorities in the southwest of the country jailed six people for "organising" riots to remember her. An uncle of the young victim has also targeted. The Islamic Republic’s reign of terror and repression continues; more than 500 people have died during the unrest. At present, Iran’s economic woes risk overshadowing the fight for rights.

Milan (AsiaNews) – In Iran, the authorities continue to arrest people and close pro-reform newspapers. Activists and relatives of the victims of repression have gone missing while a water park was shut down because it allowed women to enter without the mandatory head scarf, symbol of oppression for women.

In Tehran, repression is increasing to avert new protests as the first anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini approaches. The 22-year-old Kurdish woman died on 16 September in custody at the hands of the morality police after she was detained for not correctly wearing her head scarf.

The official version of her death blames a "heart attack" caused by pre-existing medical conditions. Her family dismissed the claim as dis many media. Journalists who reported that her body showed signs of blows to the head and limbs were later arrested on charges of "spying" for foreign powers.

Over the weekend, authorities in the southwest of the country jailed six people on charges of "organising" riots to remember Amini.

As part of a long series of acts of terror and repression, the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province suspended five social media pages that praised the protest in order to prevent any unrest.

“Women, Life, Freedom”

According to Iranian-American activist Masih Alinejad, Iranian women are ready to protest and take to the streets, even if they have to pay a high price, together with their families.

Arrested in her native country in 1994 for criticising the government, she is one of the strongest voices among Iranian dissidents. She is also behind the campaign "My Stealthy Freedom", which invites Iranian women to publish pictures of themselves without scarves.

In the country, the situation is explosive, with many people ready to turn again against the clerical regime in order to remember the young Kurdish woman and all those who, before and after her, chose to fight even at the cost of their own lives for their rights and freedoms.

Speaking to the Voice of America (VOA), the journalist and writer said that the Islamic regime is frightened by dissent. Targeted in the past by Iran for assassination, she explained that scores of people were arrested in recent weeks, laws were tightened and repression intensified.

Iranians know that under this regime people are bound to suffer. Iranians are fighting for their dignity, which is also why they are not afraid to show their faces to the morality police.

Choosing an iron first, the government has doubled down on repression to nip critical voices in the bud, and prevent a repeat of last year’s mass demonstrations, which paralysed the country and shook up the people in power between September and December 2022.

The Iranian-American activist is confident though that the Iranian people think they can win one day. Everyone will benefit from the fall of these barbaric murderers.

Era of repression

For now, things are quite different since the extreme right-wing clerical regime is still in power and every commemoration ceremony for Amini risks turning into a bloodbath.

The crackdown has not spared Mahsa Amini's woman’s family either. Without an arrest warrant, police detained her uncle Safa Aeli in Saghez, a town in north-western Iran, RFE/RL reported citing her brother, Ashkan Amini. Earlier, Iranian security forces had placed him under surveillance. His current whereabouts are unknown.

In August, the Amini family lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, was indicted for “propaganda against the system"; free on bail, he is awaiting trial.

In early September, police arrested the father and sister of Mohammad Hassanzadeh, a young man killed last year at the height of the protest movement. Both were taken to an unknown location and it is not known what charges they face.

For Iranian authorities, foreign governments and Western powers are behind the protests with the aim of overthrowing the Islamic Republic and its principles, which explains the heavy handedness of the last few months.

During the unrest, more than 500 people, often women and young people, including 71 minors, were killed, hundreds more were wounded, and thousands arrested or gone missing, a trend that continues. Many of the wounded lost one or both eyes from rubber bullets.

One of the people arrested recently is an 18-year-old man who sustained severe injuries in both eyes on 25 November 2022, after a plainclothes man fired at his face when celebrations for the Iran’s victory against Wales during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar turned into an anti-government protest that sparked more police repression.

The authorities did not forget him. On 4 September, Parsa Ghobadi was picked up at his father's workplace and moved to an unknown place.

Iran’s reign of terror and repression even elicited criticism from Afghanistan’s Taliban for the excessive use of force.

The regime’s “day-after”

The Iranian powder keg appears ready to explode, pitting a people ready to fight against a regime that views violence and repression as the only means to survive.

Outside the country, various forces appear to be working – so far without success – for an alternative to the clerical regime. In Israel, Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel met last week in London with exiled Iranian activists, journalists and dissidents to "establish public channels".

Al-Monitor reports that since her appointment, the Israeli minister has repeatedly met with Iranians in exile, as well as exerted pressure on the European Union to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organisation.

In Iran, the government has accused the Jewish state of carrying out attacks against Iran in order to undermine its nuclear programme and defence projects, as part of a broader strategy aimed at "regime change".

Despite their courage, today’s protesters and protest movement lack a cohesive leadership and objectives. This was not the case during Green Wave protests in 2009, when their leaders still ended up in jail).

In addition to calls for freedom and rights for women and the rejection of the head scarf and dress code, some of today’s protesters want to overthrow the regime and favour the return of Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi as the shah.

Yet, the alliance between the military and the clergy remains strong; the army backs Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who can rely on the Pasdaran. The morality police are also back in business, patrolling the streets, while surveillance cameras are popping up all over.

A year after Mahsa Amini’s violent death, the head scarf and women’s rights are still a major issue, but they risk being overshadowed by the country’s severe economic crisis.

"I, myself, have no problem with hijab but would be happier if the economic conditions get better," said Zahra, a 41-year-old homemaker, speaking to AFP.

Over the past year, the value of the rial, the local currency, has lost almost 70 per cent; one dollar is now worth 500,000 rials.

For Raha, a 34-year-old accountant, the headscarf “is a completely secondary and personal issue”. By contrast, the economy is "getting worse by day, people are living hard lives," she said. "First, they need to address the economic problem, then they can gradually work on social problems."

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