Anti-government protests have entered their third week in Iran despite severe internet restrictions and a heavy crackdown that rights groups have said killed dozens.
Videos posted on social media appeared to stage protests in cities across Iran on Friday night and Saturday, with students at several universities chanting slogans such as “Death to the dictator!”
Other forms of civil disobedience, such as residents shouting from rooftops, drivers honking their horns in unison, and public figures speaking out for protesters have emerged.
On Saturday, demonstrations were held around the world, including in Rome, London, Frankfurt and Seoul, in a show of solidarity.
The protests were sparked by the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was detained for allegedly not covering her hair properly. He later died in the custody of Iran’s morality police.
Although it is difficult to gauge the extent of the protests due to Iran’s severe internet restrictions, Hadi Ghaemi, director of Center for Human Rights in Iranan independent organization based in New York, said the protests were “definitely continuing.”
He pointed to a “bloodbath” on Friday in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan, where at least 19 people were reportedly killed after clashes between protesters and police. He said the protests were directly related to Amini and the rape of a 15-year-old girl by a police commander.
As in previous days of protests, recent videos show that many of the protesters are women.
They have led and marched in protests, and in defiance of the Islamic regime’s strict morality laws, have cut their hair in public and danced with their uncovered locks flowing.
“We keep getting a lot of videos showing that women are fearless,” said Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and activist who left Iran in 2009 and is now based in New York. “They are walking fearlessly towards the security forces. It seems that this time the people have made up their minds. They are saying enough is enough, we are tired of the Islamic Republic and we want to get rid of it.”
These days, Alinejad spends day and night posting images of the protests and other acts of defiance on social media for her millions of followers. The Iranian regime made it a crime for Iranians to send her videos. It also made her a target, even in New York, where she spoke to CBS News from an FBI bunker. But he said he’s not afraid.
“My true leaders are these women and men in Iran,” he said. “I’m not doing anything, I’m just using my freedom in the US, echoing their voice.”
In recent years, women in Iran have participated in other nationwide protests. But this time, the spark was the death of a woman, and a female journalist – Niloufar Hamedi of Shargh newspaper – broke the story. He was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
Hamedi is one of at least 19 journalists — including seven women — detained across the country since the protests began, according to Reporters Without Borders. (The Center for Human Rights in Iran puts the number at 25 or more.)
“This is the first time that women in large numbers, standing shoulder to shoulder with men, are burning their headscarves,” said Alinjead, who runs an online campaign called “My Stealthy Freedom,” sharing images of girls and women in Iran to go insane. the hijab rules. “[The hijab] is the main pillar of the Islamic Republic, so they firmly believe that by burning the headscarves, they are actually shaking the regime.”
In the decades before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, women on the streets of Iran dressed in both hijabs and the latest Western fashions. But soon after the revolution, the new Islamic regime decreed that women—and girls from a young age—had to cover their hair and bodies in public. Hardliners said the hijab would protect women’s honor, but for many protesters, it is a symbol of oppression.
The protesting women want to have the choice to wear the hijab or not, according to Azadeh Pourzand, co-founder of the US-based Siamak Pourzand Foundation, which promotes freedom of expression in Iran.
“It’s basically about women feeling humiliated and women feeling forced to do something they may or may not want to do,” said Pourzad, who is also a doctoral researcher at the University of London focusing on women’s activism in Iran.
While Iranian women have pushed for legal reforms for years, very little has been achieved, she said. Women are present in society, especially in higher education, but family and employment laws remain deeply discriminatory against women, as are norms and practices, she said.
However, Pourzad pointed out that the protests have united Iranians of different ages, ethnicities and cities. The protesters are not only calling for women’s rights, but also protesting political repression, corruption, Iran’s battered economy and the climate crisis caused by mismanagement.
Alinejad wants Western countries to cut ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran and “recognize … the Iranian insurgency.”
Young Iranians protesting in the streets believe that “history will judge those democratic countries that can help us, but decided to help our killers,” he said, adding, “They say, … “We are ready to die for the future of Iran. to have a better country to live in.”
Leila, a teacher who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity, said she took her daughter to protests twice in Tehran.
“For 43 years, we lived and slept in fear, so much so that we got used to it,” he said. “But now we are no longer afraid.”