Students protested against the Irani government for censoring freedom of speech by taking a stand for women’s rights on Sep. 26 at Chess Plaza.
Approximately 180 protesters chanted “Say her name, Mahsa Amini” and “Zan, Zindagi, Azadi’ which means, “Woman, Life, Freedom,” as part of the two-hour demonstration against assembly crackdowns in Iran. Visual and Performing Arts graduate student Shahrzad Hamzeh was part of a group of students and faculty from AHT that organized the protest after they heard about Mahsa Amini’s death and the Irani internet lockdown that followed as protests ramped up inside of Iran.
“We need to show our support, but we are not there,” Shahrzad Hamzeh said. “We can’t fight beside them. What can we do that could help them? It’s to make people who are here in America, in a country where there is freedom of speech… be their voice. Maybe the superpowers of the world will do something about this because the Islamic Republic is a threat to everybody.”
Newsweek reported on Sep. 13 that 22-year-old Amini was arrested in Tehran by Iran’s morality police for breaking the law requiring women to cover their hair with a headscarf or hijab. Upon her arrest she was beaten and entered a coma lasting three days, leading to her death on Sep. 16 in police custody. As protests erupted across Iran, the country’s government responded by shutting down the internet on Sep. 19. Three days later on Sep. 22, Reuters reported that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards would begin prosecuting anybody spreading false news about Amini’s death.
Finance graduate student Alireza Hamzeh said that Amini’s death was a unifying factor for various previous protests within the country by pensioners, teachers, truck drivers and more. The individual groups assembled for their specific issues, but Amini’s death and the crackdowns on freedom of speech pushed the country over the edge.
“There were a lot of different separate movements,” Alireza Hamzeh said. “Nobody has gotten what they wanted. So now, this time, we are all united … [Pointing to a flag] This is the emblem of the monarchy of Iran. A lot of people here do not believe in that. A lot of people believe we have to have a republic afterwards. But we are all united in the fact that this regime must go and we have to have freedom of speech.”
Demonstrators cheered on as several women cut their hair to show their solidarity with protesters in Iran and rebel against the Iranian government’s enforcement of Islamic law.
“People are burning their hijab,” Alireza said. “A lot of the protesters believe in hijab. But they do not believe in enforcing it because they see this as a threat to Islam basically. Because they say if Islam is the religion of peace, it shouldn’t be enforced like this.”
While hijab laws are foreign to people in the U.S., their enforcement in Iran remains a constant form of oppression and control for many Iranian women. Shahrzad Hamzeh specifies that the act of wearing hijab is not itself the issue, though.
“We are chanting for the right to choose to wear hijab or not,” Shahrzad Hamzeh said. “We don’t have that anymore. It does not matter if you’re a Muslim, if you’re a Christian, if you’re Jewish, any religion you have, you are forced to wear hijab and that’s not right.”
Flyers at the demonstration advertised the Snowflake web extension to help Iranians circumvent the internet shutdown. Snowflake works by using the user’s Chrome or Firefox browser as a proxy for others to disguise their internet traffic as benign. However, with the ongoing internet shutdown, VPNs and proxies can only do so much. Ultimately, people can’t use workarounds if there is no effective internet access at all. Shahrzad said this lack of communication access has left students worried about relatives back in Iran.
“Everybody here, we haven’t talked to our families in days because there’s no internet,” Shahrzad Hamzeh said. “Why should it be like that? Why shouldn’t they have a voice? Why shouldn’t people talk about what is happening inside of Iran? … Even though we’re far from our mother land, we are supporting you guys. So we’re giving hope to the people inside of Iran that we are here for you, even though you don’t have internet, we will be your voice from outside of Iran.”
Editor’s Note: This story will continue to be updated as more details are found.