Members of the University of Waterloo’s Iranian community gathered last Wednesday to protest inequality faced by women in Iran, brought to light again after the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the “morality police”.
UW has not made any official comments on the matter as of this article.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman, was arrested in Tehran on Sept. 13 by the Islamic guidance patrol, widely known as the morality police, for allegedly wearing her hijab incorrectly.
Amini died three days later while in custody.
The hospital to which she was brought claimed that Amini was brain dead upon arrival and, despite undergoing a successful resuscitation, died of cardiac arrest. The commander of Tehran Police cited pre-existing health conditions as the reason behind Amini’s sudden death, claims which have been heavily contested by Amini’s family, who say Amini was in perfect health and had no pre-existing conditions. Witnesses claimed that Amini was beaten inside the morality police’s van, and pictures of Amini in hospital display signs of head injuries and subsequent bleeding.
“They arrest lots of girls daily, it’s something normal in Iran. The thing that surprised people was that they killed her and they didn’t accept responsibility, and that was the reason that this news became viral, and people became angry,” said Mina*, a student organizer from UW’s Iranian Students’ Association (ISA), which assembled Wednesday’s protest.
Around 160 protestors, mainly students and family members, gathered in front of Dana Porter (DP) library on Sept. 21 at 5:30 p.m. Though it began as a silent protest, students eventually began to speak up and give short speeches on the issue. Students then walked around Ring Road holding up photos of Mahsa Amini and asking other students to look up her name to understand the current situation in Iran.
“First of all, we don’t want [a] mandatory hijab rule. And we want women to become free, because this is not the only rule [regarding] women’s agency,” Mina said. “A woman cannot travel without her husband’s permission in Iran. A woman doesn’t have the right to ask for divorce from her husband…We want [a] free Iran and free life for women.”
The ISA had hoped to hold another protest in Uptown Waterloo this past Sunday but were unable to due to a concert having already been scheduled at the same time. However, Mina is confident that the ISA would be able to schedule the protest sometime in the coming week.
Amini’s death has sparked protests across Iran and the world. In response, the Iranian government has blocked the country’s Internet access, shutting down mobile internet services on almost all major cellular networks, as well as restricting usage of some of the last Western media apps available in the country, WhatsApp and Instagram.
The Iranian government has previously attempted to block the country’s Internet access during other demonstrations such as the one in response to the sudden spike of oil prices in 2019. “[The issues aren’t] just about the hijab, there’s [issues] about the economy, there’s lots of problems in Iran. It’s a complete dictator regime…there were other protests before [where] they killed lots of people, they arrested lots of people,” Mina said.
Regarding the impact that limited Internet access would have on the issue, Mina expressed sympathy for those protesting within Iran, stating, “People in Iran who try to protest don’t have updates on what’s happening in other cities…when you don’t have updates, you think that you’re alone and you don’t have enough information to go forward.”
Mina reaffirmed her belief that despite the government’s attempts, it is the responsibility of those with free speech to get the Iranian people’s message out to the world. “We who are free and have access to Internet, social media, we can be their language, we can be their voice…We will find a way to say the truth to the world, however they try to make our people silent, however they try to shut down the Internet.”
Mina also voiced her hopes of seeing the UW community support and raise awareness for the Iranian community at this time. “We ask people to search #mahsaamini and help us. We also expect from the university clubs and communities to post on Instagram or do something to make people aware of what is happening in Iran because…[the Iranian people] need help.”
Universities across the country including the University of Western Ontario and the University of Manitoba have also witnessed protests against Amini’s death in recent days.
*The organizer’s name has been changed to protect her identity.