Social media has been flooded with videos of unprecedented protest scenes in Iran, with women cutting their hair and burning their hijabs while men cheer them on.
They were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amin last Friday after she was allegedly beaten for not complying with hijab regulations. She was hospitalized three days after her arrest in Tehran by police responsible for enforcing Iran’s strict dress code for women.
Since the protests began in Amin’s hometown and spread across the country, Iranians have taken part in protest marches around the world, and many on social media say they can no longer contact their family in Iran.
Here’s everything we know so far.
Mahsa Amin’s death
Mahsa Amini was arrested on September 13 by the Guidance Patrol – loosely referred to as the “morality police”. They are a kind of deputy command operating under the Law Enforcement Command in Tehran, Iran.
Amini was arrested for allegedly breaking strict hijab regulations and was accused of wearing “inappropriate clothing” for improperly wearing her headgear.
She reportedly fell into a coma three days later while waiting with other women who were being held by police.
Iranian authorities claim that she died of a heart attack due to her pre-existing heart condition, but reports were also circulating that eyewitnesses saw her being beaten when her head hit the side of a police car.
Her father has also confirmed that she had no previous health problems and that she suffered bruises on her legs while in detention.
Leaked medical scans appear to support the unofficial story, as they “show a skull fracture on the right side of her head caused by severe head trauma,” suggesting she may have died of a brain hemorrhage and stroke.
Demonstrators take to the streets
The people of Iran didn’t buy the official death story of a “heart attack” and have since taken to the streets to protest Amini’s death and police brutality, but also the Taliban regime after they seized the country in August last year had taken over by force year.
Scenes shared on social media showed women cutting their hair and burning their hijab in protest, while men and women cheered around them.
Large groups of people were recorded chanting things like “Death to the Islamic Republic (regime)”, “We don’t want the Islamic Republic” and “Death to Khamenei” – the current Supreme Leader of Iran.
In the background of many videos, there is more than just hijabs on fire: everything from police cars to trash cans and buildings to a giant image of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Commander Qassem Soleiman.
According to reports from the Iranian state media, the street rallies with up to 1,000 people had spread to 15 cities by Wednesday, where the police used tear gas and made arrests.
“These are the largest protests since November 2019,” said Ali Fathollah-Nejad, Iran expert at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.
Iran blocks internet access
As videos of this dissent go viral, the Iranian government appears to have restricted internet access to prevent more videos from being shared.
As of yesterday, September 22, Iran completely shut down the internet in parts of Tehran and Kurdistan, blocking access to social media platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
Before being blocked, many people in Iran used social media to share what was happening to them and ask for help.
Since then, concerned family members living outside the country have shared their horror at not being able to contact the family in Iran.
“The Iranian people have been cut off from the internet as world leaders meet at the United Nations,” one Iranian woman commented on her video.
“Please be our voice.”
“The Iranian government is shutting down our internet so they can shut up… and they’re killing us,” she added.
“They kill people, they shoot people… in many different cities and people go berserk,” shared another in what she said will likely be her last TikTok video for a while.
“Please support us, please. Please share our message with the world.”
Death toll rises
Protesters are risking their own lives to oppose their government and the death toll is rising.
At least 31 civilians have been killed in the protests so far, according to an Oslo-based Iranian human rights NGO. There were also five deaths of security personnel, according to local media.
Iranian media reported that three militiamen “mobilized to deal with rioters” were stabbed or shot dead in three different Iranian cities on Thursday: Tabriz, Qazvin and Mashhad.
Another security member is said to have died in the southern city of Shiraz, while local news also reported that a protester was stabbed to death in Qazvin.
Iranian authorities have denied having anything to do with the deaths of protesters.
Questions arise about the future of the current leadership
The widespread protests once again raise questions about how long the current leadership can hold its ground.
“Current conditions in Iran suggest that there may be a tendency for the two groups to unite. The outrage over Amini’s death is shared by both the middle and lower classes,” Fathollah-Nejad told AFP.
“This cannot be resolved until the regime implements a series of reforms. Since the Islamic Republic is both an ideological regime and inefficient and corrupt, it cannot solve the problems it has created.”
Originally posted as Be Our Voice: Call for Help Before Iran Blocks the Internet