A year into Iran’s “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests after the death in police custody of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini last September, the country’s ruling establishment is faced with state-led lawlessness sparked by its massive campaign of mass arrests, detentions and convictions against the backdrop of nationwide protests. According to the IRGC, these protests represent the most powerful and dangerous struggle facing the Iranian republic.
This July, the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner called on Iran to end the human rights violations against the protestors. Of major concern is the safety of family members seeking justice for children and loved ones killed during the ongoing protests.
Scores of university students and professors are among those killed and detained after holding at least 615 protests in the first 82 days after Amini’s death. The Iranian government refuses to share records of those arrested, but last year alone, 1,600 students were banned from continuing their university education. A civil committee to investigate the arrests said that at least 122 university students are still barred from attending classes.
Universities are hotbeds of tension and political activism. Hundreds of formal and informal student associations remain active, despite crackdowns. Last year, 51% of students in public universities and 18% in private universities took part in the protests. According to the state-backed Fars News Agency, universities could be forced to shut down if the protests persist.
To quell the women-led protests, the “hardliner” Iranian Parliament amended and reintroduced a hijab and chastity bill this August. The bill fines women for violating mandatory hijab rules and strips many of them of their basic citizenship rights and protections. If the bill is passed, it will carry harsher prison sentences for women and subject them to facial recognition surveillance techniques in order to hunt down those defying hijab regulations.
The bill’s advent is against the backdrop of international efforts to punish the Iranian state. Last October, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom called on Washington to spearhead the establishment of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Iran. This year, the commission called on Washington to refer Iran’s leaders to the International Criminal Court over the country’s mistreatment of religious minorities.
In mid-August it was reported that Iran had arrested dozens of Baha’is including a 90-year-old. Some 60 members of religious minority groups remain in detention since the latest crackdown. Many Baha’is have been languishing in Iran’s prisons for over a decade. Despite a 2,000-year Christian history in Iran, the Iranian state continues to persecute Christians, pushing the UK to designate 80 Iranian officials and entities because of human rights violations.
Iran’s Sunni minority groups, including ethnic Arabs, Kurds and Balochis, face frequent persecution, according to Human Rights Watch. In the southeastern Province of Sistan and Balochistan, protests continue, and young men have been sentenced to death. By March this year, Iran had executed at least one Arab, 14 Kurds and 13 Balochis who received unfair trials and were tortured, according to Amnesty International. Thousands more were arrested during the protests in the past year, leading many Kurds to flee Iran.
The Iranian crackdown on other activists is taking its toll. Civil rights activist Sepiden Qolian is regularly detained over her refusal to observe the mandatory hijab laws. Her latest court hearing this summer was held behind closed doors. According to family members, she faces allegations including espionage and sedition and was previously interrogated and tortured. Environmental and labor activists as well as teachers participating in the protests face arbitrary arrests, in addition activist rappers are jailed and forced into prison psychiatric wards and women are abducted and tortured. Thousands of child protestors face harrowing torture, including flogging, electric shocks, beatings and sexual violence.
Ahead of the anniversary to mark Amini’s death in September, Iranian authorities arrested a dozen more female activists. Shopkeepers, teachers and employers have been threatened with fines if they fail to enforce the strict hijab rules. Homes of human rights defenders face police raids. A reporter who interviewed Amini’s family has been arrested twice. The family has accused Iran’s security forces of vandalizing her grave.
Daily demonstrations may have subsided due to the severe crackdown, but riots persist, and
Amini’s death continues to have a profound impact on Iran. This may encourage further protests in the country and embolden Iranians to demand justice. Many Iranians are now publicly calling for a new political system and for change. Activists say there is no other option but to keep fighting. An underground resistance is emerging against the status quo.
These are all signs of hope for a better future in Iran. But it is unlikely that the Iranian state is to change course and introduce reforms. Rather, all signs point to a desire by Iran to introduce stricter codes to contain the protests and civil disobedience, pushing the country to the precipice of a national disaster.