On October 6, 2023, human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, currently held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, won the Nobel Peace Prize, which is dedicated to her decades-long struggle for freedom and equality for all people in Iran. One year has passed since a young Kurdish woman named Jina “Mahsa” Amini died in the custody of the Iranian morality police in Tehran on September 16th, 2022. Her death sparked a revolutionary movement of Iranian women and men demanding “Woman, Life, Freedom.” It is a challenge to grasp and formulate everything that has happened in this past year, as the revolutionary movement has amplified a variety of voices, showing the will of individuals living in Iran to create change, though not yet successful, it has already come at a great cost.
A Year of “Woman, Life, Freedom” in Review
One of the most important developments that accompanied the movement is the amplification of the demands of ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities within Iran. Iran has historically been considered a pluralistic country, with each region having its own language and customs, which can be very different from the dominant Farsi-speaking culture. However, even before the 1979 revolution and during the period of the Pahlavi monarchy (1925-1979), ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities within Iran were not considered equal to the mainstream civil society, and their voices and demands were regularly ignored, especially in the political sphere. The oppression of minorities worsened after the 1979 revolution with the establishment of a theocratic authoritarian regime. A striking example of this issue is the imprisonment of political prisoner Mahvash Sabet, a 70-year-old Iranian poet of the Bahá’í faith. The poet and human rights activist has been vocal about the Iranian regime’s systematic treatment of Bahá’ís as second-class citizens, leading to her rearrest in November 2022.
A Kurdish activist, who wishes to remain anonymous butwho has recently fled to Germany from the Kurdish regions of Iran said to Reset DOC that, similar to during Pahlavi dynasty and the current Iranian regime does not permit the Kurdish minority to give their children Kurdish names or to teach them in Kurdish in schools. For this reason, many activists emphasize the importance of calling Mahsa Amini by her real name, Jina, as Mahsa was forcibly imposed on her by the Iranian regime. Therefore, for the first time since the implementation of the Iranian regime in 1979, a significant development in the past year, which has been continuously fought for and highlighted by relevant stakeholders, is that ethnic minorities within Iran are once again being heard and taken seriously by the international community. For instance, since September 16,the people of Zahedan, the capital of the Baloch region in Iran, have been taking to the streets every Friday to demand freedom from the Iranian regime’s repressions against them. As explained by the Kurdish activist, the Kurdish minority managed to liberate the city of Oshnavieh from regime forces within the first weeks of the protests in September 2022, creating a 2-day autonomy from the Iranian regime.
However, most of these efforts have been met with harsh repression in the country, with more than 30 thousand people arrested since September 2022, about 70 percent of them under the age of 30. To date, 22,794 demonstrators have been arrested. Although Iranian human rights activists around the world are still trying to identify their names, it is estimated that more than 10 thousand prisoners, about 20 percent of whom are underaged, have not yet been identified. This is due in part to the existence of some 14 secret torture prisons scattered throughout the country, which are being used by Iranians Revolutionary Army (IRGC) to interrogate, torture, and ultimately intimidate the prisoners. In addition, more than 10,000 people have been injured and 600 have been shot during the protests across the country, with most of the incidents occurring in the predominantly Kurdish and Baluch regions of Iran. In addition, more than 10,000 people have been injured and 600 have been shot during the protests across the country, with most of the incidents occurring in the predominantly Kurdish and Baluch regions of Iran.
Another troubling development observed since the beginning of 2023 is the rapid increase in executions in the country. As of October 2023, approximately 500 people have been executed in Iran since the beginning of the year. Most of them were accused of drug-related cases, and around 30 percent of those executed were from the Baluch minority, despite making up only 2 percent of the Iranian population.
These statistics are not being highlighted enough by the Iranian mainstream media, as the German-based Kurdish activist points out. They also emphasize that although ethnic, sexual and religious minorities have gained legitimacy during the protests, it is still a challenge, especially within the Iranian diaspora outside of the country, to create a level of acceptance for the voices and demands of the minorities inside Iran. This is being seen as a challenge in light of Iran’s appointment as chair of the United Nations Human Rights Social Forum from May 2023, despite strong opposition from human rights activists. It will remain a point of debate how much the legitimization of the Iranian regime by the international community will influence the success of the revolutionary movement led by the people inside Iran.
The Kurdish activist also shared their thoughts on the importance of creating a sense of unity within the Iranian diaspora. In recent months, human rights activists have sought to form legitimate oppositions, but divisions within the Iranian diaspora are hindering successful progress. This is particularly challenging when it comes to the efforts to engage in diplomatic meetings with other world leaders to garner support for recognizing the crimes against humanity committed by the Iranian regime against its own people.
Armita Garavand’s case and Narges Mohammadi’s Nobel prize
We now know her name. 16 year old Armita Gravand.
Reports indicate the teenager fell into the grips of hijab enforcers while on the Tehran metro 🚇 and is now in a coma at Fajr hospital.
— Samira Mohyeddin سمیرا (@SMohyeddin) October 3, 2023
A recent development that further underscore the urgency of a united Iranian diaspora is the incident of Armita Garavand. Her case mirrors that of Jina (Mahsa) Amini, as a video of the young 17-year-old Kurdish girl surfaced on social media on the 1st of October showing her being dragged off a train by morality police officers for allegedly not wearing a proper hijab. Since then, Armita has been in a coma as a result of the violence used against her, and images of her have emerged that show similarities to those of Jina Amini just before her death. These events are to be observed with concern and reaffirm the importance of not forgetting the demands of the revolutionary movement, which are “Woman, Life, Freedom.”
One hopeful development, however, is that imprisoned human rights activist Mohammadi has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The last time the prize was won by an Iranian woman was in 2003 by human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, who now lives in exile. Mohammadi, who is still in prison, has not stopped sending letters of support and solidarity to the protesters on the streets from the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, and even burned a headscarf on the day of Jina Amini’s death on September 16 in defiance of the Iranian regime. Mohammadi has served various sentences for her activism on behalf of women’s and human rights in Iran. According to the Guardian, she released a statement immediately after the announcement saying that she would “never stop striving for the realization of freedom, democracy and equality”. It is the strength of people like Mohammadi that gives activists around the world, as well as the people inside Iran, the courage to continue the fight against oppression and dictatorship.
Cover photo: protest art depicts “turban tossing” during a rally and march in support of protesters in Iran. Protesters used to remove or “flick” the turbans of clerics as an act of resistance. Photo by Allison Bailey / NurPhoto via AFP.
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