It’s been nearly a year since the death of a young Iranian woman sparked a growing wave of women-led protests challenging the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Mahsa Amini became the symbol of the protest movement that spread from Iran to around the world, including Fresno, where hundreds gathered Thursday night at Fresno State to honor the uprising’s heroes and victims.
Those who continue to protest, even in countries far from Iran, risk retaliation for themselves and their families in Iran. But they’re not giving up, Shima Afshari said.
“Oh, we want it to happen. But it’s essential for foreign people to know that none of the dictatorship is going to be overthrown within a year,” she said. “It takes much longer than that, especially the regime that for 44 years got power and they have nothing to do except they’re getting stronger and stronger for suppressing people, torturing, violating their rights, harassing them. And by the slightest protests, people get in jail and they’re executed.
“But definitely history (shows) that no matter how powerful the dictatorship is, the voice of people is much stronger … and we know that very soon we would crumble the regime.”
Afshari and Mojgan Sadeghi told GV Wire prior to Thursday’s event in the Satellite Student Union that they have lost close friends and relatives to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard who still hold power in Iran 44 years after dethroning the shah and imposing strict, Islamic-based laws that include requiring women to cover their heads with the hijab.
Death Sparks Worldwide Protests
Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, had been taken into custody in Tehran by the morality police who said she was wearing her hijab incorrectly. Witnesses said she was severely beaten in a police van and suffered a head injury that led to her death three days later, on Sept. 16, 2022, just five days before her 23rd birthday. The Iranian government denies that she was beaten and said she suffered a heart attack.
Beatings by the morality police are frequently recorded and shared on social media, and they were among the videos displayed at Thursday’s event in the large auditorium in the Satellite Student Union. The event, which drew more than 200 people, included speeches by Mayor Jerry Dyer and Fresno State professor Leece Lee-Oliver, short plays, and traditional Persian and contemporary music.
Mojgan Sadeghi said she came Thursday in support of the Iranian people. Sadeghi said she left her homeland because she is Baha’i, and the Iranian government was forcing Baha’i people to convert to Islam or face consequences.
When the first protests erupted last year, Sadeghi said she hoped that change finally would be forced on the Iranian government, which is controlled by Islamic clerics. Women were burning their hijabs, Iranians were turning on the morality police, and the Iranian people were rising.
Although the protests have continued, they have become more subdued in recent months as the government has cracked down and jailed or killed protesters. Sadeghi said one of her younger cousins, the father of two children, is now in prison.
Participating in protests and remembrance events like Thursday’s is how Sadeghi shows her support for the movement.
“I’m so sorry for my people of my country and it’s so sad to see they killed so many young people,” she said tearfully. “But I can’t do anything, unfortunately. And the only thing I can do just for them and whatever I can do in here, I do for my people of my country.”
What can America do for the people of Iran? Stop releasing money that the U.S. has long frozen, and which will be used to support the Iranian regime as well as terrorism, Afshari said.
The U.S. recently announced plans to unfreeze $6 billion as part of a prisoner swap that will lead to the release of five Americans being held by Iran and five Iranians held by the U.S.
“One thing is, stop helping terrorists. Stop helping dictatorships. They’re killing kids on the street, torturing them, raping them. We have 26,000 kids in the jail right now, and they get raped, they get harassed, they get tortured. And every single day there are people that get killed under torture,” she said. “And the anniversary of our uprising, America sends $6 billion to Iran. And their reasons is for humanitarian reason. Are you serious? Do you think dictatorship cares for humanitarians?”
The funds that are being released won’t be used to buy medicine or food for the Iranian people, Afshari said. Instead, the Iranian government will buy more guns to kill people, and support terrorists overseas, she said.
“Please stop and be the voice of people, not the voice of the terrorists and dictatorship, because you’re going to get hurt,” Afshari warned. “Not only our people — you’re going to get hurt too.”