Art by Iranian political cartoonist Kianoush Ramezani, with permission.

Iranian authorities did not anticipate that the death of Mahsa Amini, or Jîna Amini as she was better known to her family and friends in her native Kurdistan province, would spark a nearly unprecedented public backlash. Amini, 22, was detained by the country's morality police while visiting Tehran, for allegedly failing to properly cover her hair under her hijab.

Due to increasing repression, corruption, and economic hardships, protests have been frequent in Iran; however, Amini's passing appears to have empowered women to take the lead in these protests and inspired waves of support around the world. In response, the government launched a comprehensive security crackdown and disrupted the internet and phones in an effort to quell the growing dissidence. These communication channels remain largely unrestored. 

According to witnesses, Amini was seized by Iran's morality police on September 13 and assaulted with repeated blows to her head during her arrest and transfer to the Vozara Detention Center. She died on September 16 after slipping into a coma as a result of brain trauma at the detention center. Iranian officials claimed she died after suffering a “heart attack,” which her father refuted, accusing authorities of lying about her death.

People began gathering around the hospital shortly after Shargh daily journalist Nilufar Hamedi reported Amini's death and published a photo of the 22-year-old’s devastated parents hugging each other in the hospital corridor. The news quickly spread online, exposing the case to the world. Hamedi was later arrested and placed in solitary confinement.

Thousands of people attended Amini's funeral in Saqqez, Kurdistan's province, the day after she died. The Kurdish population has long faced discrimination from the Iranian government. Some have even speculated that the reason she was treated so cruelly was because she was a woman of Kurdish descent.

During the funeral, women removed their headscarves in front of police officers and chanted against mandatory hijabs. Many protesters were beaten, and at least 13 people were shot. In Iran, the hijab was made compulsory for women in 1983, in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Over the next few days, the movement gained traction among young people born after the Islamic revolution who do not believe they must adhere to conservative ideologies. More women began cutting their hair and posting videos on social media, taking off their headscarves and then burning them in public.  

Protests against the government, largely spearheaded by women, erupted in more than a dozen places and on university campuses in Tehran by Monday, September 19. By Saturday, October 1, supporters held rallies all over the world.

Protestors chanted numerous slogans, including “Jin – Jiyan – Azadi: Women, Life, Freedom,” a popular Kurdish political slogan used in the Kurdish independence movement, recognizing the role of women activists.

The Iranian government wasted little time in mobilizing the Revolutionary Guards, the Islamic Republic of Iran's Law Enforcement Command, riot police, and plainclothes security personnel to crush the protests. Amnesty International produced evidence of widespread use of fatal force and weaponry by Iranian security personnel. It also uncovered patterns of torture, sexual assault, and other forms of gender-based and sexual violence, such as instances where security agents grabbed women's breasts or yanked their hair after they removed their headscarves in protest.

Iranian officials claimed they've arrested more than 1,200 people in the nationwide anti-government protests. While information about the death toll in Iran continues to be limited, according to Iran Human Rights, at least 92 people were killed by Iranian police during the protest movement, and another 41 were killed in clashes on September 30 in Zahedan, in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan, another area that is consistently targeted by the Iranian government's discrimination, bringing the total number of dead people to at least 133 as of October 2, 2022.

At the same time, the Iranian government adopted the all-too-common tactic of obstructing internet communication in an effort to put an end to the growing protest movement, which had largely relied on social media to document dissent and human rights violations. Social media often plays a key role in organizing protests, coordinating gatherings, warning protestors of police backlash, and amplifying acts of resistance. 

Additionally, a free and reliable internet is viewed as the last line of defense that stands between the protesters and state-sanctioned massacres, as in the case of Iran's 2019 government shutdown, which claimed nearly 1,500 lives.

Experts confirm a partial disruption of internet access in Tehran and other parts of the country beginning on Friday, September 16, 2022. On Wednesday, September 21, 2022, access to Instagram and WhatsApp, two of the last surviving international platforms in Iran, was restricted across all major internet providers.

Global Voices and our partners will cover the current developments of the situation in Iran, and provide analyses of the scene on the ground. If you have any suggestions or would like to contribute a story, please contact Mariam Abu Adas, Global Voices’ Middle East and North Africa Editor.

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