‘I will never wear a headscarf again’: Outrage in Iran after woman dies in custody

·4-min read
© Observers

The death of young woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s so-called "morality police" in September has enraged people across the country, leading to three days of protests, strikes and sit-ins in the capital Tehran and in Iran's Kurdish region. Security forces have responded with force, beating and arresting demonstrators, shooting live bullets, and limiting internet connection in the Kurdish areas of Iran.

Mahsa Amini was 22 years old. The young Iranian woman was from Saqqez, a Kurdish city in western Iran, and was arrested in Tehran on September 13 by the notorious morality police known as "Gasht-e-Ershad". Her crime: "not wearing proper clothing".

According to Islamic Sharia-based law in the Islamic Republic of Iran, women in Iran must cover their hair and bodies in a conservative manner. The Gasht-e-Ershad, or morality police, is responsible for enforcing this law, made compulsory after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

She was taken to hospital just two hours later after losing consciousness at Vozara police station in the north of Tehran. According to an Instagram post from Kasra Hospital (which has since been deleted), Amini was brought there in a brain-dead state and in cardiac arrest. Eventually, she died on September 16 after spending three days in hospital.

The Islamic Republic announced that the cause of her death was “natural” and caused by a heart attack. However, the poor reputation and well known brutality of Iranian police – as well as published evidence – led many Iranians to believe that Amini had been beaten and killed by the morality police.

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A number of Iranian doctors diagnosed Amini's condition as a "severe concussion" based on a photo of her in hospital shared on social media.

They said that bleeding from her ear and blacked eyes were signs that she had suffered brain damage, as opposed to a heart attack or cerebral stroke as the Iranian regime claimed.

In addition, a London-based Persian-language media published some of Amini’s medical scans taken at Kasra Hospital, provided by a hacker group that had hacked into the hospital database. The scans showed a skull fracture and a confirmed concussion.

‘I am tired of being a slave to these Islamists’

Agrin (not her real name) is a young Iranian girl living in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan Province in Iran. She has been participating in the protests in her city:

I have attended all the protests in the last few days and I will go again today. I am going to the main street where people are gathering and chanting and crying, and I will not wear a headscarf. I have sworn to myself that I will never wear a headscarf again, even if they kill me, torture me, I will not submit anymore. I see hundreds of women everyday doing the same.

This dress code, this piece of cloth, was never part of our culture – not as Iranians and certainly not as Kurds. Our mothers, and now we, have put up with it for 40 years.

In the wake of growing anti-hijab sentiment in Iran, some Iranian clothing brands have announced that they will stop manufacturing and selling hijabi clothing.

‘It is not our culture, our clothes’

Agrin continued:

We are deprived of our basic rights as women and as Kurds. We have no security, we have no work, our environment has turned to dust, we have no money, we have no freedom. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that remains unscathed because of these Islamic rulers.

And now they are killing us because we are not wearing the dress code they have imposed on us properly. It is not our culture, our clothes, but we have to submit precisely to their cruel rules, just like slaves.

I am tired of being a slave to these Islamists. I hate them and you can speak to anyone, they have the same feelings as I do.

Ahmad Mirzaei, the commander of the Tehran morality police was removed on September 19, according to Iranian media. The dismissal was a rare gesture in the Islamic Republic that followed three days of protests. However, our Observer in Sanandaj says the move was “far from enough”.

I saw the news, it’s ridiculous, not enough. I also see that some so-called reformists on social media are calling for the closure of the morality police. No, that is not what we want. The Islamic Republic is evil, the main source of all our misery, the reason why so much struggle is coming to us. The Islamic Republic must disappear, and I hope that this time the blood of Mahsa on their hands will end their days.

The death of Mahsa Amini in custody of the morality police in Iran has also provoked international reactions. Many Iranian and non-Iranian celebrities shared her story and called for the Islamic Republic to be held accountable for her death. Those who spoke out included actors Sharon Stone, Nathaniel Buzolic, Nazanin Boniadi, the writers J.K. Rowlings, Elif Shafak, and former Iranian football superstar Ali Karimi among many others.

Many Iranian activists also shared videos of themselves cutting their hair on social media as a protest against the alleged assassination of Mahsa Amini.