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Monday, November 28, 2022

International

Houston protesters decry Iranian regime: ‘We’re not afraid anymore’


Hundreds of Iranian Americans in Houston gathered to protest Iran’s regime at City Hall over the weekend. | Lisa El-Amin/The Cougar

Hundreds of Iranian Americans in Houston gathered to protest Iran’s regime at City Hall over the weekend. | Lisa El-Amin/The Cougar

The full names of some protesters who spoke to The Cougar have been withheld.

Dissent filled the air around City Hall on Saturday as hundreds of Iranian Americans gathered to protest the government crackdown in Iran on demonstrators in the wake of the death of Mahsa Amini.

Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, was arrested on Sept. 13 by morality police in Iran for allegedly wearing her hijab “incorrectly.” She was reportedly beaten while in police custody and relocated to the hospital, suffering from injuries and a coma. She died on Sept. 16. 

This immediately sparked rage among Iranians, leading protesters to take to the streets in reportedly peaceful demonstrations. However, they were met with bullets and forceful tactics by law enforcement to detain activists as well as the mobile internet being shut down in Iran’s cities for over a week.

Iranians all over the U.S. and in other parts of the world are protesting in support of women’s rights and freedom. The slogan “Women. Life. Freedom.” is the basis for many individuals who attended the City Hall protest. 

“I would just like to see the people of Iran live healthier lives, be able to afford medicine and food because right now they’re fighting for basic necessities,” said a demonstrator at City Hall. “They’re fighting to not be murdered for having a headscarf on two inches further down than a man thinks it should be.”

Many protesters have expressed four decades of frustration with Iran’s regime and showed up on Saturday to let their voices be heard and share their disdain with the government. 

Before Iran’s revolution in 1979, women were not forced to wear a hijab and had more personal freedoms. Since then, Iranians, especially women, shared that they have been devoid of safety, restricted of rights and revoked from having government positions. 

While there was a large turnout of protesters yearning for change, many said it was risky to protest the government but felt it was necessary since people in Iran are not able to freely protest, report or spread awareness online about what’s happening to the public. 

Though the outcry was initially sparked by Amini’s death at the hands of Iran’s morality police, it has since snowballed into something much larger. 

One protestor, who identified himself as Amir, said while past issues have led to a popular backlash, none have reached the scale and unity as those seen recently. 

“What has been happening over the years is that people have been protesting about single objectives, but they didn’t really want to see a change in regime,” Amir said. “But the government’s repeated oppressive tactics and horrible crimes have eventually gotten people to the point that they believe enough is enough.”

Amir said that despite having a cohesive mission, the road ahead for the Iranian people is long. The current government has a long history of suppressing protests and has learned how to curb outcry through bloodshed. 

While the Iranian people still have much to overcome, Amir said he still sees beauty in the movement and his people. 

“What’s really beautiful is that it’s a movement led by women, which is unique in Iran,” Amir said. “I think it’s unique globally. Revolutions that we have known to this point have not been initiated and basically led entirely by women.”

A UH senior who identified herself as Giselle is one of the women leading the demonstrations and an organizer behind Saturday’s protest. She said that much of what’s happening in Iran stems from the government’s fear of an increasingly vocal female population. 

“The Islamic Republic was really afraid of giving women attention. They have spent about 43 years trying to silence them,” Giselle said. “With so many educated and independent Iranian women, the government has felt the need to shut them down because they knew the power they had.” 

For Giselle and Amir, the Iranian government’s attempt to undermine female voices is what has ultimately propelled opposition to the current regime. 

However, speaking in opposition to Iran’s government is not without danger. Many gathered at City Hall did so despite potential retaliation toward friends and relatives back home. For organizers like Giselle, the risks are outweighed by the dire and immediate need for change.

“We all have this common sense that we want to end this one. We cannot really go through this again,” Giselle said. “We’re not afraid anymore because there’s nothing they can do to us that they haven’t done already.” 

It is this sense of defiance that has united Iranians abroad towards a common goal, Giselle said. 

“I realized that every single person in the street getting shot or arrested is one of my brothers, my sisters being hurt by the regime,” Giselle said. “Even if we are not the ones in front of the bullets, it felt like our responsibility to help bring attention to the plight of our people.” 

Giselle said that Saturday’s gathering at City Hall served as a first step towards garnering more international support in condemning the actions of Iran’s current administration. 

As the protest came to its conclusion, another Iranian American demonstrator who identified herself as Lilly said that she felt great pride seeing her people stand alongside their fellow citizens back home. 

“My whole life, I have been surrounded by very strong women,” Lilly said. “It makes me very proud to see so many people come together in support of women’s rights in Iran, and I have hope we will see real change in the future.”

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