In Iran, with those “ready to sacrifice their lives for freedom”

In Tehran (Iran).

“It felt like a movie to me,” still can’t believe Golnaz*. That day, this Tehran woman in her twenties will go to Valiasr Avenue. Known to be the longest road in the entire Middle East, at about 17 kilometers, this artery bisects Tehran from north to south. Lined with an army of plane trees, it is a busy and unavoidable artery in the Iranian capital.

Today and since the death of the young Mahsa Amini ten days ago, arrested by the morality police for a badly worn veil, this axis is one of the many theaters of chaos scenes that shake the country.

“I saw the police beating people”

When Golnaz goes there, it is the first days of mobilization. “Looked like they were ready for war!”she describes with reference to the forces of order for the equipment “daunting” and the helicopters above them. Despite the forces present, she decides to go to her sister who works nearby to calm herself.

She then sees the crowd flooded with tear gas. “At one point I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I saw the police beat people, I saw them use firearms. I was afraid to run because I thought that by running I would attract attention and risk being shot.confides the young woman, finally helped by a friend to join her sister.

Some of his friends, protesters, were beaten by the police. Others have been arrested. And every day she painfully sees the face of new victims passed on social networks. Like Hadis Najafi, a 21-year-old young woman who was recently killed by six bullets in Karaj near Tehran, who has become a new symbol of oppression.

According to latest assessment by the NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR)based in Oslo, “at least seventy-six people were killed in the protests”whose “six wives and four children”, in fourteen provinces of the country. The Iranian authorities, for their part, put the death toll at 41, including members of the police. They announced the arrest of more than 1,200 protesters, while the ultra-conservative president, Ebrahim Raïssi, said Iran should “deal with firmness those who attack the security and tranquility of the country”.

“They are arresting the wounded”

“On the first evening, people tried to demonstrate completely peacefully and without using radical slogans. But the police and bass DJs [miliciens fidèles au régime] oppressed us greatly”, says Amir*, who actively participates in the rallies in the city of Rasht in the north of the country. “An intelligence officer acting like a protester tried to catch me, but a man helped me run away. I ran almost 7 kilometers!”

On another night, when he said he saw police firing a few meters from the protesters, this senior candidate had to seek refuge with a neighbor of the scene after taking a stick. One of his cousins ​​left three teeth there, another was wounded in the hand and foot, hit by steel balls. We can’t even go to the hospitals because they arrest the wounded»continues Amir, whose sister works in a health institution.

“It’s scary, but I’m not going to wear the veil anymore”

Despite the oppression that falls on this youth, Golnaz emulates many of her brave fellow citizens, whose videos go around the world: removing her veil, which she has worn since the age of 7, in public. “I don’t wear it anymore. It attracts the attention of the police, but I manage to get away from it. It’s scary, but I’m not going to wear it anymore. I don’t know what would happen to me if i was arrested. So many people have been and are never coming back. Not even their bodies.

This is what Javad*, who works in entertainment in Tehran, tells us “almost all [s]her friends were arrested, in the four months prior to the current events, for having condemned on social networks the manner of doing the morality police. According to him, this unit responsible for controlling women’s clothing was strengthened during the Raisi administration: “The government gave her more freedom and she started acting more violently. And boom! The Mahsa Amini drama is coming. And it was a few days after the anniversary of the execution of Navid Afkari!»

The September 2020 execution of this 27-year-old Iranian wrestler had already made an impression. He had been sentenced to death for murder by a government employee in Shiraz (southwest of the country) during demonstrations two years earlier. His family has always denied the accusation; during his lifetime he maintained that he had been forced to confess under torture.

“Tired of their harmful rules”

With the drama Mahsa Amini, the spark of Iranian anger has been rekindled and is not limited to the single issue of the veil. Already in November 2019, when the last mass demonstrations started –that had killed 1,500 according to Reuters–, the mobilization was born in response to an increase in fuel prices. And slogans against the regime had resurfaced in the country’s streets.

For Javad, the current movement is a resurgence of these events, which took place a few weeks before the emergence of Covid-19 in Iran. “I think it makes no sense to compare with 2019: it is the continuation of 2019”he analyses, however, noticing an increase in violence today.

“They expect us to run away easily, but some of us face it and fight. It was a shock to the government troops.Judge Amir. “People are more angryconcludes Golnaz. There are many more young people and even religious ones. People who had no hope of change last time are more enthusiastic.”

Recently beaten and beaten in protest by bassidjis, like they were having fun» with him, another Teheran interviewee also notes a greater variety of profiles: Students, bazaar traders, young, old, rich, poor, men and women: they are all angrier and more violent. And they are willing to sacrifice their safety and their lives for freedom.»

“We have support from all over the world nowthinks Kiana *, a Tehran woman. We are not protesting for a price or a death, but for our rights. All the rights the government has taken away from us. We are tired of their harmful rules that only protect them and not us.”

And to add: “Everyone should do what they can, but no one should remain silent.”

*Names have been changed.

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