Dissident: ‘Iranian women are furious’ over the death of the headscarf

NEW YORK (AP) — Tears come quickly to Masih Alinejad as she discusses the messages she has received in recent days from women in Iran protesting against their government after a young woman died in police custody for violating the country’s strict religious dress code.

They speak of the risks, possibly deadly, of confronting government forces that have a long history of suppressing dissent. They share stories of saying goodbye to their parents, perhaps for the last time. They send videos of clashes with the police, of women removing their compulsory headgear and cutting their hair.

According to an Associated Press tally, at least 11 people have been killed since protests began earlier this month following the funeral of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in custody after being detained by Iranian morality police. State media said the death toll could reach 35.

“I feel people’s anger right now through their text messages,” Alinejad told The Associated Press in New York, where the 46-year-old opposition activist and exiled writer has lived since fleeing the country. Iran after the 2009 elections.

“They were ignored for years and years,” she said. “That’s why they are angry. Iranian women are furious now.

Amini’s death sparked this latest outburst of outrage. She had been arrested on September 13 for allegedly wearing her hijab too loosely, in violation of restrictions requiring women to wear the Islamic headscarf in public. She died three days later in police custody; authorities said she had a heart attack but was not injured. His family disputed this, which caused public outcry.

Demonstrations began after his funeral on September 17 and took place in more than a dozen cities. The Iranian government pushed back, clashing with protesters and cracking down on internet access.

Alinejad Shares Protesters’ Outrage; for more than a decade, she was an outspoken critic of the theocracy that rules the country and its control over women through the compulsory wearing of the hijab and other measures. In 2014, she launched My Stealthy Freedom, an online effort encouraging Iranian women to show images of themselves without a hijab.

“Let me clarify that the Iranian women who are facing guns and bullets right now in the streets, they are not protesting the compulsory wearing of the hijab as just a small piece of cloth. Not at all,” she said.

Iranian dissident Masih Alinejad gestures as she speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in New York City. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

“They are protesting against one of the most visible symbols of oppression. They protest against the whole regime.

Alinejad, who grew up following religious blanket rules in the small Iranian town where she was born, began to object to being required to wear certain clothes when she was a teenager.

But even she, who now flaunts her full head of curly hair as a matter of course, hasn’t found it easy to overcome a lifetime of conditioning.

“It wasn’t easy to put it away, like overnight,” she said. “It took me three years, even outside Iran, to take off my hijab.”

She says that the first time she went out without religious cover, in Lebanon, she saw a policeman and had a panic attack. “I thought the police were going to arrest me.”

Her activism has made her no fan among Iranian officials and government supporters.

Last year, an Iranian intelligence officer and three alleged members of an Iranian intelligence network were charged in Manhattan federal court with conspiring to abduct her and bring her back to Iran. Iranian officials have denied it. In August, a gunman was arrested after he was seen hanging around Alinejad’s Brooklyn home and trying to open the front door.

However, she is committed to her cause and supports those who, in Iran, women and men, are involved in the demonstrations. She would like to see more support from those in the West.

“We deserve the same freedom,” she said. “We are fighting for our dignity. We fight for the same slogan – My body, my choice.

She worries about what will happen to protesters in Iran as the government moves to maintain control and end dissent, if there is no outside pressure.

“My fear is that if the world, the democratic countries do not act, the Iranian regime will kill more people,” she said, scrolling her phone to show images of young people who she says have already been killed in the current wave. of protest.

She called the women in the protests warriors and “true feminists.”

“It is the women of the suffragettes who risk their lives, in the face of guns and bullets,” she said.

But even if, as has happened in the past, the government exercises enough control to quell the protests, that will not make dissent go away, she said.

The “Iranian people have made their decision,” she said. “Whether the regime cracks down on protests, shuts down the internet, the Iranian people will not give up. … The anger is there.


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