Iranians Are Risking Everything to Protest, Some of Them Are Not Returning Home

Farnaz’s final phone conversation with her brother occurred on an unidentified line. “When he finally got around to calling me, all he said was, “I was caught.” As soon as I realized what my brother meant, I set out to find him at the local morality police station, “the 22-year-old, who requested anonymity, shared his story with CNN.

Farnaz claimed that her brother, an accountant, was among the protesters in Kerman, Iran’s southeastern city, on Monday when “officers in plain clothes” infiltrated the crowd and “forced people into morality police vans.” The protesters were protesting against what Farnaz described as the “oppressive government of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi.”

Kerman’s outrage mirrors what’s happening elsewhere in Iran, where protesters are taking to the streets and chanting “death to the dictator” in a dramatic show of defiance against the regime after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last week at the hands of Iran’s notorious “morality police,” who enforce the country’s mandatory head scarf laws.

Protesters claim the regime has blood on its hands again because of Amini’s killing, which has become a symbol of the harsh persecution women have experienced in Iran for decades.

Iranians Are Risking Everything to Protest

At least 17 people have been killed in violent skirmishes between demonstrators and security forces since last week, according to semi-official news outlets. According to the Norway-based NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR), at least 50 individuals have been slain.

CNN has not independently confirmed the death toll. Two members of Iran’s paramilitary organization have also been slain alongside demonstrators.

Farnaz and her parents went to the Kerman office of the morality police in the frantic hours after her brother went missing, demanding answers. Instead, they say they were met by a horde of other people looking for their loved ones, several of whom reported being intimidated by police.

Farnaz hasn’t seen her brother in over four days and is beginning to worry that she’ll never see him again. They’re holding my brother hostage, and I have no idea his health,” she sobbed.

Farnaz claims her brother was abducted from the Azadi plaza in Kerman on Monday, and CNN has confirmed footage showing armed police battling with demonstrators.

The United States imposed sanctions on Thursday against several morality police and security officers who it holds responsible for Amini’s killing.

Forcing Iranians to Submit

According to CNN, Amini’s cousin Diako Aili observed the last time anyone saw Amini alive was on September 13, when she was being “punched in the head” by Tehran’s morality police in the back of a car before being driven away.
Later that day in Tehran, Amini collapsed at a “re-education” center where morality police officials had taken her to get “instruction” about how she was dressed, according to a CCTV video broadcast by Iran’s state media.
After being taken into custody, she was sent to Tehran’s Kasra hospital two hours later.

Physicians reportedly informed Amini’s immediate family at the Kasra hospital where she was treated that she had been hospitalized with “brain damage on arrival” due to “the injuries to her head being so serious,” as stated by Aili.

Aili, who now resides in Norway, has not spoken to Amini since July, but she maintains regular touch with her parents. He said that no one from his family had been permitted to visit the hospital to see her body.

“She died in a coma three days after that,” Aili recalled. “She was a joyful girl living in a not-so-wonderful nation, with dreams I’ll never know about.” CNN could not confirm Aili’s story with medical staff on their own.

Amini’s family and the Iranian government insist he died of a heart attack, but the government in Tehran insists he was murdered. A government autopsy was reportedly finished over the weekend but was still being examined as of Monday.

The official investigation into the circumstances of her death is “ongoing,” but that hasn’t stopped the unrest on the streets. Instead, images of protests striking in their geographical spread, ferocity, and symbolism have flooded social media in what appears to be the largest display of public anger in Iran since demonstrations over rising food and fuel prices in 2019. Shima Babaei, imprisoned in Tehran’s notorious Evin jail in 2020 for refusing to wear a hijab, finds Amini’s death particularly unsettling.

“Her murder has reminded me of the brutality of the Iranian police, which has been directed not just at me but at thousands of other Iranian women. The morality police headquarters is located in the same building where I was humiliated, handcuffed, and treated like a criminal “fighter for women’s rights who is now based in Belgium, she explained to CNN.

Internet celebrity in Iran Babaei has seen firsthand what it’s like to unintentionally be used as a protest symbol. Her story became symbolic of the anti-hijab “Girls of Revolution Street” protests that swept Iran from 2017 to 2019. However, she notes that the atmosphere is different this time around.

“For me, this seems like the start of something big. Women are burning their scarves and other symbols of the dictatorship in the streets to hasten the day when the Iranian people win their freedom and never forget those who stood with them.”

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