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Unrest in Iran

Unrest in Iran

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The death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, has sparked anti-government protests across Iran. Could they be a tipping point for the Islamic Republic?

A video released by police in Iran shows women sitting on rows of chairs, all facing a desk at the front with an Iranian flag next to it.

Some are talking, others are moving around.

And as one woman gets up, a red circle appears around her on the screen.

She walks over to talk to a female police officer.

Moments later, the woman raises both hands to her head before leaning on a chair, swaying, and finally, collapsing to the ground.

That woman’s name is Mahsa Amini. 

And although she was taken to hospital shortly afterwards, Mahsa Amini slipped into a coma and died three days later. 

“Officials said she had a heart attack but her family claimed she was beaten and they blame the police for her death.”

5 News

Hours earlier she’d been arrested in Iran’s capital, Tehran, by the notorious “morality police”, which are special units tasked with ensuring the respect of Islamic morals and detaining people who are perceived to be “improperly” dressed.

And that was Mahsa Amini’s supposed crime. 

At the time of her arrest, the 22-year-old had been sitting in her brother’s car during a visit to see family members. 

They say she was beaten in a police van after her arrest, suffering multiple blows to the head. 
And her death has sparked outrage across Iran…

“Many women related to Mahsa’s story, many mothers, fathers, men, they say that it could have happened to our daughters, that’s why they’re really furious.”

Masih Alinejad, 5 News

This is Iranian journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad speaking to 5 News…

“After 40 years of being oppressed, finally we see that the brutal death of Mahsa Amini is becoming a turning point for women…”

Masih Alinejad, 5 News

So, could Mahsa Amini’s death really be a tipping point for the Islamic Republic of Iran?

***

After she died, protests that began outside the hospital where Mahsa Amini was treated continued at her funeral.

[Clip: demonstrators at Mahsa Amini’s funeral]

And quickly spread across the country…

[Clip: demonstrators protesting across Iran]

Videos of women standing on burning police cars soon appeared on social media, with chants of “death to the dictator”, and “women, life, freedom”.

“There’ve been running battles between demonstrators and police in the Iranian capital Tehran, protests were sparked by the death last week of an Iranian woman…”

BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme

Some protesters set fire to posters with images of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, while women have been seen cutting their hair, and burning their headscarves in protest.

[Clip: demonstrators protesting across Iran]

Security forces have used tear gas and water cannons in attempts to disperse the demonstrators. 

Live ammunition has been used too.

“At least 10 people have died in 5 days of unrest.”

BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme

In an attempt to deal with the protests the government has imposed a widespread internet shutdown.

“Dozens of cities are protesting, the authorities have shut down the Internet in many of these cities, Instagram which used to be the most popular social media platform… has been filtered. WhatsApp has been filtered as well and it seems that the Internet shutdown is going to be the first phase of a huge crackdown.

BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme

But Iran has seen widespread protests before, so why might these ones be different?

***

In 2019, the Iranian government shutdown the internet for a week.

“There are still protests going on in Iran over fuel price hikes and rationing but with 95 per cent of Internet access shut down by the government, it’s hard for the outside world to tell…

CBC News

Security forces responded with lethal force, and because of the internet blackout they were able to hide the true scale of the unlawful killings. 

So it’s reasonable to think that the same could happen this time.
But this show of defiance is also different to the demonstrations we’ve seen before.

“This protest shouldn’t be looked at as an isolated incident but as an evolution of a protest movement over the last 5 years that has grown bigger and bigger each time, and this time it really looks like the entire country is inflamed, outraged and demanding change.”

CBS News

Although this week’s protests started over whether a woman should be forced to wear a hijab, what protesters are really calling for is a change to the status quo. 

Iran’s chief justice has promised a full investigation into Mahsa Amini’s death, but it’s unlikely to satisfy protesters, many of whom will be too young to remember the Islamic revolution… so calls for change will only grow louder.

This episode was written and mixed by Imy Harper.