Student Opinion: Iranian Protests Fight On Amid Threats of Jail Time and Execution

By Nicolas Cital

Iran in 2022 has seen an increasing trend of Iranian women refusing to wear hijabs, a religious obligation mandated by law that has become deeply entrenched in the nation’s culture. This movement has continued to grow over many decades, more so now than ever, prompting President Ebrahim Raisi to toughen law enforcement as the year moved towards the nation’s National Hijab and Chastity Day (July 12). This move led to an increasing number of arrests of those supporting the movement.


It reached a fever pitch in September when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody for having broken the country’s female dress code. 


This has now led to an increase in protests that continue to pick up steam. The number of arrests rose as the number of people protesting grew as well. Support for the mandatory wearing of a hijab has reportedly fallen from a high of 85 percent in the 1980s to a drastically lower 35 percent in 2018.


The tragic climate that Iran finds itself in is staggering and sobering, to say the least. It’s an unfortunate fight between two things that many hold near and dear to their hearts: cultural traditions and personal freedom. 


With change being one of the most difficult things to implement in a quick fashion, it seems apparent that violence will only increase before a near-pyrrhic victory is achieved.


It’s understandable to want to maintain cultural and religious traditions, however, the extent that it’s forced upon people is plain wrong. I imagine it seems obvious for many to simply wonder why it cannot be a choice. A woman can wear it during special occasions, around family, or whenever it feels appropriate, but the practice should not be dictated by written law. 


By using force to have women wear a hijab, it becomes less representative of a proud religious symbol and more representative of a form of capitulation. If it were made to be a choice, a hijab would be a better religious symbol, than metaphorical shackles.


Some reports indicate that as many as 15,000 protesters have been sentenced to be executed. Thankfully, these reports aren’t true, however, the unfortunate side to this is that around 350 protesters have actually been killed. Rather, the 15,000 figure refers to the number of people that have been arrested. 


The confusion over the supposed death toll came from what many of the protesters are charged with: something known as moharebeh — which is used sometimes to carry the death penalty. Either way, it’s disheartening to trade one tragedy for another. One death is already too much.


Despite the threat of jail time and even death, protests rage on each day, with videos continuing to be released in spite of heavy internet restrictions. Many are given hope and happiness with the movement, some citing they no longer feel fear now that they don’t wear their religious garb.


Officials have been sending out announcements and mass texts urging people to support the Iranian government. However, some believe there to be international intervention in regard to the protests, especially from the United States. Hence, even with the movement inspiring many to come forth to protest, there are also some people that have come out in support of its opposition


Thoughts regarding western involvement in the protests and how right or wrong it is, walk a very fine line. Online support is definitely easy to give, even if the people actually protesting probably don’t see it. It’s more difficult to come to a concrete conclusion when considering if there is actual, on-the-ground involvement in Iran. 


On one hand, it is easy to say that some of the violent actions performed in some protests are wrong when I, or others, aren’t living under those conditions or experiencing some situation akin to that of Iranian women. However, I cannot sanction outside involvement — if there really is any — that incites violence. I still find it important that the people of Iran continue to protest for change. 


The United Nations and European Union have expressed interest in conducting their own investigations into the protests and how the state has been handling them. The investigation would mainly center around the death of Mahsa Amini where there is much contention on whether or not she was beaten or mistreated during her custody before she later collapsed and died some days after her detainment.

Time will tell how the protests and turmoil conclude. It is unfortunate that with that time, more and more people will continue to lose their lives or freedom. This violent clash between freedom and tradition continues to burn bright with seemingly no end in sight. Many are left to simply hope for some basic freedom that they deserve as both sides struggle to maintain their level of ferocity and tenacity.

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