Newsha Niazmandi was born and raised in Iran and moved to the United States at the age of 17. In recent days, his thoughts have focused on another young woman in Iran whose death has touched a global nerve.
Mahsa Amini, 22, died last week after Tehran’s morality police detained her on charges of not wearing her hijab properly. Days of street protests in several Iranian cities have turned deadly as protesters defied strict dress codes by burning headscarves and cutting off their hair.
“This is a question of feminism. Everyone should understand that women are fighting for their freedom,” said Niazmandi, one of hundreds of protesters who gathered outside the Wilshire federal building in Westwood Wednesday night.
“They go down the street trying to protest and they get shot down,” he said of people living in Iran. “When you see those videos out there, they don’t care if you’re a woman or not; they don’t care if you wear a hijab – they just want to put you down.
The hijab, a head covering worn by some Muslim women, has been compulsory in Iran since the 1979 revolution. According to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Iran’s morality police have begun to crack down on women they accuse of improperly wearing the hijab, the Associated Press reported.
According to the UN agency, videos have emerged showing women being beaten with batons, thrown into police vans and punched in the face because they did not fully cover their hair.
Amini was born in Saqqez, western Iran, and was traveling with his family to Tehran when he was arrested on September 13. He died three days later. Police have denied abusing Amin and say he died of a heart attack, while his family has said he had no heart disease and was healthy, several media outlets reported.
Independent experts affiliated with the United Nations have said that Amin was beaten by the morality police, but have provided no evidence. The UN human rights office has called for an investigation into his death.
“Iranian security forces continue to feel emboldened to kill or injure protesters and prisoners, including women arrested for defying abusive mandatory veiling laws, unless they are held accountable,” Amnesty International’s deputy Middle East director, Diana Eltahawy, said in a statement. on Wednesday.
Los Angeles is home to most people of Iranian descent outside of Iran. Many live in Tehrangeles, a Persian enclave in Westwood that began in the 1960s and flourished after the 1979 revolution. According to the Census Bureau, 87,000 people of Iranian descent lived in the city in 2019.
Many members of the community are currently taking to the streets of LA in solidarity with the worldwide protests against Amin’s death.
“Like George Floyd and what happened in the U.S., people in Iran are just fed up and want women to have their rights,” said Jon Asghari, who lived in Iran as a child but moved to the U.S. about 15 years ago. back. The 28-year-old said it was the “bare minimum” to turn up at Wednesday’s rally and help “spread the word”.
Ariana Siddiq, 22, said Amin’s death was particularly troubling because it could happen to any woman in Iran.
“I could have visited Iran and my hijab could have easily fallen off and I could have been killed in Iran,” she said at the rally. “If that happened, America would do something about it because I’m an American citizen.”
At least nine people have been killed in ongoing clashes between protesters and Iranian security forces since the protests began over the weekend, AP reported Thursday. The protests coincide with the visit of President Ebrahim Rais to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Iranians have reported widespread internet blackouts after the country blocked access to Instagram and WhatsApp and shut down the internet in parts of Tehran and Kurdistan to crack down on growing dissent, the Guardian reported.
Speaking at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Raisi sought to quell the outrage over Amin’s death. He referred to the children of migrants detained in the US and the difficulties faced by Palestinians.
“Human rights belong to everyone, but unfortunately they have been trampled underfoot by many governments,” Raisi said.
Emily Doyle, 23, whose mother was born in Iran, said she finds it difficult to speak out against Iran because she worries about the negative attitudes many Americans have toward Iranians. But ultimately, she believes standing up for women’s rights is important.
“[Iran doesn’t] you have the Internet now,” Doyle said. “They took away Instagram, and now I think the Internet is out in Iran. That’s part of why it’s important to be here, because we have the Internet and we can continue to spread the message about what’s going on.
Siddiq stressed that Iranians in America should speak out because they have more freedom to protest.
“It just goes to show that we have to be the ones to do it,” he said. “We’re less likely to be killed than in a country like Iran. Women are killed for protesting. If you’re in the States and you can protest, you might as well. If they don’t have a voice now, we have to be their voice.
Niazmandi said she understands what it’s like to be oppressed and cursed by your society as a woman because she had attended an all-girls school in Iran and had to follow a strict dress code, including being required to wear a hijab. and cut your nails to a certain length.
“I want to be there,” he said of Iran. “I want to come out and show my hair and I want to be the person who burns her headscarf. When I see women without hijabs in front of the police who know they will be beaten at some point, it’s inspiring and brave. They’ve reached a point of desperation, that they just have to stand and say, “Hey, look at me. I am without hijab and I am here for my human rights.
“It had to happen at some point and now it’s happening and I’m very happy for them,” added Niazmandi. “I’m also very sad because it doesn’t happen for free. They make a lot of sacrifices there.”