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Iran’s protest movement

Iran’s protest movement


Anti-government protests have taken place on Iran’s streets, at universities and schools, and oil refineries. Could it become a movement that eventually topples the regime?

[Clip: Nika Shakarami singing]

This is Nika Shakarami. She’s 16 and from Tehran, the capital of Iran.

In the video you can hear, Nika’s singing and dancing to a love song from a famous 1968 Iranian film.

Holding a microphone, she laughs and tells her friends not to make fun of her.

[Clip: Nika laughing]

Last week, this video of Nika went viral online as people hailed her as a “martyr” because there’s another video of Nika going round online too.

But that one is different.

Nika isn’t singing and laughing with her friends, instead, she’s standing on a toppled dustbin as protesters chant around her.

[Clip: anti-government protesters chanting]

Nika’s right hand is high in the air, clutching a burning head scarf.

It’s hard to know exactly what’s happening in Iran right now because there are heavy restrictions on independent and foreign reporting, but like many others, Nika joined a protest against the Iranian regime’s repression of women and girls.

“Street protests in Iran over the death of a woman in custody have spread to more towns and cities. Mahsa Amini’s family claim she was attacked after being arrested by the morality police.”

BBC News

Shortly after that video was filmed, Nika told her friend she was being chased by police. Her phone then went dead, and her Telegram and Instagram accounts were deleted.  

Nika’s family spent ten days searching for her, in prisons, hospitals, and even a mortuary, before authorities told them “a girl matching her description” was in a morgue at the local detention centre.  

The police report said she’d fallen off a building, but Nika’s injuries didn’t add up. 

And her story is similar to Mahsa Amini’s, the 22-year-old who’s death in police custody first sparked the anti-government protests. 


Those protests are now in their fourth week.

Given new energy by students like Nika, they’ve spread to every province of Iran, with large demonstrations taking place on university campuses.

[Clip: students protesting on campus]

And there are videos of schoolgirls stamping on a framed photo of Iran’s Supreme Leader, ripping it up and throwing the pieces in the air.  

According to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the average age of the protesters who’ve been arrested is just 15.  But it’s not just women, girls and students who are protesting. Men have joined them, and workers too.

“We’re gonna turn back overseas to Iran where anti-government protests are now targeting the lifeblood of Iran’s economy, that’s oil and gas production.”

CBS News

“Now to the mounting anti-government in Iran now reaching the critical oil industry, workers walking off the job to join the demonstrations as new sanctions hit Iran.”


Workers have been seen blocking roads with stones and rubble, and barrels of tar have been set on fire. And their chants are calling for the same thing, “Down with the dictator”.

[Clip: oil workers chanting]

So could these protests turn into a political movement that eventually topples the regime?


“In 1978/79, during the last revolution, it was the oil workers essentially protest and strike that broke the back of the… regime and of course resulted in the overthrow of the monarchy and the incoming Islamic Republic…”

Nadereh Chamlou, the Atlantic Council, speaking to BBC Radio 4

This is Nadereh Chamlou from the Atlantic Council think tank, speaking to the BBC’s Today programme.

“…. and so of course the oil workers going on strike… reminds everybody of the end of some regime and the start of a new one and of course the… that it could spread to other sectors and it could paralyse the economy which is already kind of hobbling around.”

Nadereh Chamlou, the Atlantic Council, speaking to BBC Radio 4

Iran’s economy is already suffering because of sanctions imposed by countries including the United States – and the oil workers’ strike will only make things worse. 

The country has been here before. In 1978, a combination of mass protests and strikes by oil workers and shopkeepers led to the revolution that overthrew the Shah. 

And so today, Iranian authorities will be worried that history could repeat itself, which is why it’s resorting to brutality.

[Clip: Iranian authorities firing gunshots at protesters]

But these protests are more diverse than ever before. 

A new, younger generation are leading the fight, with Iran’s women, young and old, at the forefront. And that makes it hard for Iran’s men – the brothers, fathers, and uncles – to ignore. 

Which is why they’re joining the movement that Nika and Mahsa died for, and they’re demanding change.

This episode was written and mixed by Imy Harper.

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