By Nick Clark
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2823

People revolt after Iranian police murder young woman

This article is over 1 years, 5 months old
Iranian academic and activist Peyman Jafari says there's a growing radicalism among sections of the youth, but all generations are participating
Issue 2823
The back of a woman's head in the foreground, a man throws a missile in the middle ground, smoke in the background, illustrating an article on the protests in Iran

Protesters in the capital of Iran, Tehran (Picture: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Protesters in Iran have torched police stations in cities as demonstrations over the police killing of a young woman entered their sixth day. At least seven people have died as cops try to smash the protests, centred mostly in the north west Kurdish region, but also in the capital Tehran.

The demonstrations are the latest in a series of challenges from below to crisis-stricken Iranian governments since 2019. They began on Saturday following the police killing of Mahsa Amini the day before. 

Mahsa fell into a coma at a detention centre after Iran’s “guidance patrols”—which enforce Iran’s religious laws—arrested her on Tuesday of last week. She died three days later in hospital.

Police claimed that Mahsa was arrested for not wearing her hijab—headscarf—in a way that fully covered her hair. They also denied that officers had beat her head with a baton and banged it against one of their vehicles, instead claiming she’d suffered heart failure. But her family said she had no health problems.

Protests in the wake of her death took up the slogan, “Women, life, freedom”. Women on many of them have removed their headscarf in public—in defiance of Iran’s law—and cut their hair.

But, Iranian academic and activist Peyman Jafari told Socialist Worker, the protests are not so much against the headscarf itself as against brutally-enforced compulsory wearing.

“Women and the youth are at the forefront, but the protests are really mixed and there are all generations participating.” he said. “There has been a growing mood among younger generations that they do not want state interference in their daily life, their social lives. 

“This does not mean that they are anti-religious or against the hijab. It’s really about the freedom of wearing it or not wearing it. I was talking to a friend who is joining the protests and has a hijabi mother who is supporting her. Lots of these women will have mothers, grandmas, aunts, friends even who will wear the hijab. 

“So this crosses the line of being religious or non-religious. It’s about the freedom of wearing what you want.”

The protests come amid a years-long crisis for Iran’s governments, and waves of resistance. Iran has suffered economic crises caused by Western sanctions, and reforms designed to open the economy to privatisation and the market.

That has resulted in repeated explosions of demonstrations and strikes, mostly over poverty, unemployment and shortages. These began with a series of mass protests in early 2019, where police and state forces killed up to 1,500 people.

More recently, there were protests earlier this year after the government cut subsidies for basic foodstuffs. That, coupled with a growing urban working class and a rise in women entering the workforce and universities, has created the conditions for social revolt.

In response, the government of Ebrahim Raisi promised to enforce religious laws more strongly, in a bid to shore up his conservative supporters. Instead, this only widened the rift between the government and younger generations who want greater freedom, while high unemployment and poverty erodes its support.

Reports in Western media outlets have focussed on chants of “down with the dictator” recorded on some demonstrations. Western governments that view Iran as a challenge to the US’s dominance in the Middle East frequently latch onto anti-government protests.

But, says Peyman, protesters have also chanted, “Down with the oppressor, be it the supreme leader, be it the Shah”. That refers to both Iran’s current regime and the previous Western-backed dictatorship overthrown by a revolution in 1979.

Instead, Peyman says, the main slogan of the demonstrations, “Women, life, freedom,” ties political and economic demands together into a broader revolt against the system.

“Women, life freedom puts the sexism issue at the forefront,” said Peyman. “Life means everybody wants to have a good life—this also refers to workers like the poor and so on. And freedom is freedom from state repression.”

He added, “I do think this is a growing sentiment of radical sections of youth that oppose the entire system. It’s because of both corruption and economic mismanagement and this infringement on political and social liberties.”

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