When the morality police in Iran detained Mahsa Amini, 22, on September 13, it must have felt routine to them. She was one of many people detained that day for having a few hairs sticking out from under their headscarves, despite her brother’s pleas that they were tourists in an unfamiliar place in Tehran. But what happened next has shaken the theocracy.
According to medical officials, Amini was taken to the hospital “without any vital signs and brain-dead” hours after being detained. On September 16, her death was declared. Later, an unknown source circulated a picture of a young girl who was fastened to tubes. Blood stains could be seen on the girl’s ear, which a doctor who examined the images speculated would be a symptom of severe brain trauma.
Protests started at Amini’s funeral in her village of Saqqez, in Iran’s Kurdistan Province, and spread quickly throughout the rest of the nation. They were unprecedented in magnitude and speed and distinguished by the audacity of the protesters, who women virtually always led.
Images of Iranian women squaring off with law enforcement and security personnel while wearing no head covering proliferated daily. One week following Amini’s passing, there were protests in some areas of Tehran on September 23.
Even though the Islamic Republic is used to rallies and public unrest, it was nevertheless surprised and taken off guard. The security apparatus soon started to tighten its grip. Short, grainy videos taken on cellphones began to appear on Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp, showing the police assaulting and attacking people as they fled their onslaught—with the sound of gunshots audibly audible in many cases—often with the assistance of paramilitary Basij troops.
More and more names and images of young people who allegedly died during the protests started circulating on social media, including one on Iranian actress Parasto Salehi’s Instagram page.
How Iran clamps down on protests?
The Iranian regime has suppressed several protests over its four decades in power, beginning with those organized by competing factions vying for power after the 1979 flight of the Iranian Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who the United States supported. In what became known as the “Green Revolution,” hundreds of thousands of people protested alleged election fraud in the streets in 2009, only to be dispersed by regime troops and subjected to mass arrests. In November of 2019, as gas prices increased, there were dramatic public outbursts all around the nation, to which the government responded with live fire. According to Amnesty International, 300 civilians have died in eight days, including at least 23 children. The administration adopted another drastic measure: it shut down the internet to control the mob.
It appears that this strategy is now in use. Most social media has been censored, and mobile data networks have been turned off. Even though Iranians use VPNs to get around internet censorship, many people are concerned about the prospect of a complete blackout in light of the preemptive arrests of numerous activists, students, and political figures.
What is the response of the international community?
International diplomacy might have prevented security forces from using excessive force during the first week of the demonstration. In order to resume the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, President Ebrahim Raisi attended the UN General Assembly in New York. Many analysts cautioned that a recurrence in November 2019 might be inevitable given Raisi’s return and the lack of a deal.
The Western community will look to exert more pressure on Tehran to secure a better deal by influencing and aiding the street protests across Iran. The controversial NGO National Endowment for Democracy actively encourages street protests in Iran. The United States government has given SpaceX CEO Elon Musk the go-ahead to launch Starlink satellite internet provider so that Iranian protesters can use the internet.
Iranian energy is crucial for Europe as Russia tightens its energy supply before winter. West is desperate to draw up any measure to influence Iran to get a deal. The ring of NGOs, sponsored by Western corporations and donors with blessings from Western governments, often spring into action to extract a better deal from smaller nations when they go awry. This crisis in Iran may look the same.