Protesters: “Iranian women are furious” over the headscarf death

NEW YORK (AP) – Tears come quickly to Masih Alinejad when she talks about the messages she’s received in recent days from women in Iran protesting against their government, after a young woman died in police custody for violating the country’s strict religious dress code. .

They speak of the dangers, possibly fatal, of confronting government forces that have a long history of suppressing dissent. They share stories of saying goodbye to their parents, possibly for the last time. They send videos of clashes with the police, with women removing their head coverings and cutting their hair.

“I feel people’s anger right now through their text messages,” Alinejad told The Associated Press in New York, where the 46-year-old opposition activist and writer-in-exile has lived since he fled Iran after the 2009 election.

“They’ve been ignored for years and years,” he said. “That’s why they’re angry. Iranian women are furious now.”

The trigger for this latest outburst was the death this month of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. The young woman was arrested on September 13 for allegedly wearing her hijab too loosely in violation of restrictions requiring women in public to wear Islamic headscarves. He died three days later in police custody. Authorities said he suffered a heart attack but was not injured. Her family disputed this, resulting in a public outcry.

Demonstrations began after her funeral on September 17 and have taken place in more than a dozen cities. According to an Associated Press count based on statements from state and semi-official media, at least 11 people have been killed, while a state television anchor said the number was even higher. The Iranian government pushed back, clashing with protesters and restricting Internet access.

Alinejad shares the protesters’ anger. for more than a decade she has been an outspoken critic of the theocracy that rules the country and its control over women through compulsory hijab and other measures. In 2014, she launched My Stealthy Freedom, an online effort that encourages Iranian women to show images of themselves without the hijab.

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“Let me make it clear that the Iranian women who are facing guns and bullets right now in the streets, are not protesting the mandatory hijab as a small piece of cloth. Not at all,” he said.

“They are protesting one of the most visible symbols of oppression. They are protesting against the whole regime.”

Alinejad, who grew up following the rules about religious coverings in the small Iranian town where she was born, began to resist being forced to wear certain clothes when she was a teenager.

But even she, who now displays her full head of curly hair as a matter of course, didn’t find it easy to overcome a lifetime of grooming.

“It wasn’t easy to put it away, like overnight,” he said. “It took three years for me, even outside of Iran, to take off my hijab.”

She said that the first time she went out without a religious covering, in Lebanon, she saw a policeman and had a panic attack. “I thought the police were going to arrest me.”

Her activism has made her unpopular among Iranian officials and government supporters.

Last year, an Iranian intelligence officer and three alleged members of an Iranian intelligence network were charged in federal court in Manhattan with plotting to kidnap her and take her back to Iran. Officials in Iran denied this. In August, an armed man was arrested after he was seen hanging around Alinejad’s Brooklyn home and trying to pry open the front door.

She is committed to her cause, however, and supports those in Iran, women and men, who are participating in the protests. He would love to see more support from those in the West.

“We deserve the same freedom,” he said. “We are fighting for our dignity. We are fighting for the same slogan – My body, my choice.”

He worries what will happen to the protesters in Iran as the government moves to maintain control and shut down dissent if there is no external pressure.

“My fear is that if the world, the democratic countries, don’t take action, the Iranian regime will kill more people,” she said, holding up her phone to show images of young people she says have already been killed in the current wave. of the protest.

He called the women at the protests warriors and “true feminists.”

“These are suffragette women risking their lives, facing guns and bullets,” she said.

But even if, as has happened in the past, the government exercises enough control to quell protests, it will not make dissent disappear, he said.

“The Iranian people have made their decision,” he said. “Whether the regime suppresses the protests or shuts down the Internet, the people of Iran will not give up. … The anger is there.”

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