Iranians both within the country and around the world came together on Saturday to mark the somber first anniversary of the tragic death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd who passed away while in police custody. The anniversary brought renewed concerns of a government crackdown, aimed at suppressing any potential resurgence of the protests that shook major Iranian cities last year.
Mahsa Amini’s ordeal began when she was arrested by religious police for allegedly violating Iran’s strict dress code for women, which has been in effect since the 1979 revolution. While her family insists that she died from a head injury inflicted during her time in custody, Iranian authorities dispute this claim.
Mahsa’s death sparked outrage and led to weeks of unprecedented protests where women boldly removed their mandatory headscarves, openly challenging the authority of the Islamic Republic under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
However, the protests lost momentum over time due to a heavy-handed crackdown by security forces. According to Norway-based Iran Human Rights, 551 protesters lost their lives, and Amnesty International reported over 22,000 arrests. Iranian authorities, on the other hand, attribute the unrest to foreign governments and hostile media.
In a distressing turn of events leading up to the anniversary, human rights organizations have reported a renewed government crackdown. Families of those who lost their lives in the protests have faced pressure to remain silent.
Human Rights Watch revealed that in the past month, family members of at least 36 individuals killed or executed during the crackdown were interrogated, arrested, prosecuted, or sentenced to prison.
Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, expressed concern, stating, “Iranian authorities are trying to impose a chokehold on dissent to prevent public commemoration of Mahsa Jina Amini’s death in custody, which has become the symbol of the government’s systematic oppression of women, injustice, and impunity.”
Journalists who covered Mahsa Amini’s case have also faced repercussions, with Niloufar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi being held in prison for nearly a year. Nazila Maroufian, who interviewed Mahsa Amini’s father, Amjad, has been repeatedly arrested.
Amjad Amini, determined to honor his daughter’s memory, planned a commemoration in their hometown of Saqez in western Iran. However, reports emerged that he was summoned by intelligence officials after the announcement. Though not arrested, one of Amini’s uncles was detained in Saqez on September 5.
Amjad Amini was briefly detained on the first anniversary of his daughter’s death, according to the Kurdistan Human Rights Network. Iran’s official IRNA news agency denied his arrest but did not clarify if he was briefly detained or warned.
Security forces were significantly deployed in Iran’s predominantly Kurdish areas in anticipation of unrest. Widespread strikes were reported in various cities in Iran’s Kurdistan region.
While some women continue to appear in public without headscarves, Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament is considering a draft law that would impose harsher penalties for non-compliance.
On this solemn anniversary, Iranian expatriates worldwide are expected to hold commemorative rallies, with large demonstrations planned in Paris and Toronto. International voices, including US President Joe Biden and Western allies, have called for solidarity with the Iranian people.
As the world reflects on this tragic anniversary, Amnesty International urged countries to initiate criminal investigations into the Iranian authorities’ actions, which they claim constitute crimes under international law. Despite the passage of a year, no official has been investigated for Mahsa Amini’s death or the ensuing crackdown.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanani, condemned the Western countries’ “illegal and undiplomatic actions” in response to their sanctions imposed over the protest crackdown, signaling ongoing tensions on the global stage.