The September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in Iran has sparked protests across the country and across the world – including here in Madison.
About 100 people gathered Sunday to remember Amini, bring awareness to the subjugation of women in Iran and call for reforms.
“We gathered on Sunday on Capitol Square because of human rights, women’s rights and freedom of choice, which all are missed in Iran,” said one of the protest’s organizers, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal. Madison365 has agreed to refer to her by her initials, ZN.
Amini was arrested in Tehran, apparently for not wearing a hijab in the manner deemed proper, and died in police custody. Authorities have said she died of natural causes while other witnesses have said she was beaten and tortured.
Protests across Iran have prompted a shutdown of internet access and reports of fatalities.
ZN said the protests have been building for more than 40 years, since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 put a theocratic regime in power.
“The people of Iran are fighting for everything that they have lost in the past 40-plus years to the dictatorship,” said Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, a longtime Madison community leader who was born in Iran. “Iranians are not the regime. They are victims of the dictatorship. This fight is about allowing women to choose their own destiny instead of being used as a tool by a patriarchal regime. Let’s not let Mahsa’s murder be forgotten. This is the time and moment. Iranian women are lionesses. We will not stop roaring until we are granted our freedom and the right to choose our destiny.”
ZN said protests like the one in Madison are important because the regime in Iran wants to silence especially women’s voices.
“What we truly want from people all around the world is to be the people of Iran’s voice,” ZN said. “Let’s just support them by sharing their story with whoever we know. Iran’s government wants to shut their voice, but we can help them to prevent this by saying what is really going on in Iran as much as we can.”
Seeing so many come out in support lifted her spirits, too, she said.
“It really gives me a good feeling that we’re not alone,” she said.
Speakers at the Madison rally echoed the refrain being chanted in the streets of Iran: zan, zendegi, azadi, or woman, life, freedom.
“What happened to Mahsa could happen to anyone. Mahsa is every Iranian’s sister or daughter,” Bidar-Sielaff said.
ZN said the protests against Iran are not protests against Islam.
“We do respect all beliefs. And we have no issue with hijab or Islam,” she said. “Some people choose to wear hijab. Perfect. But some others don’t. But we don’t have this primary human voice in Iran to choose what we want to wear.”
Observers have noted that people have protested against the Iranian government before, but these are different, in their scope and size and grounding in feminism. The new wave of protests makes ZN hopeful.
“I really like to be optimistic,” she said. And I’m optimistic this time, more than previous times … this story is being shared all over the world. It just makes me more hopeful and optimistic.”
She’s also optimistic that she can return home one day.
“If I have a home country with freedom of choice, I definitely would think about coming back there,” she said. “That’s my mother country. It is more beautiful to just live with your family.”