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Human Rights Violations Escalate for Iranian Women and Girls as the Country Violently Enforces the Mandatory Hijab Law
Protests and civil unrest have recently erupted across Iran regarding the government’s brutal implementation of the mandatory hijab law, a mandate which has resulted in the fatal beating of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Ms Amini, a native of the Kurdistan province in north-western Iran, was travelling to Tehran to visit her brother in early September 2022 when she was arrested on 13 September by the Guidance Patrol in the presence of her family, for not wearing her hijab “in accordance with governmental standards.” She was then transferred to the custody of Iranian Moral Security to attend a “briefing class” in a detention centre. Upon being released an hour later, Amini’s brother was informed that she had suffered a heart attack and seizure while in the police’s care. She was quickly transferred to Kasra Hospital in Tehran upon her release from police custody.
According to the victim’s cousin, Amini was tortured and insulted in the van upon her arrest. The BBC also claims multiple eyewitnesses saw the police beat Amini shortly after her arrest in the presence of other detainees. She suffered several injuries soon after being taken into police custody such as loss of vision and bruises on her hands and legs from being severely beaten while resisting the insults and curses of the officers. Amini fainted shortly after. Once admitted to Kasra Hospital, she was in a coma for two days until she was pronounced dead on 16 September while in the intensive care unit. After the news of her death was released by news outlets, the Iranian police vehemently denied allegations of the beating and claimed the victim died from “sudden heart failure.” However, the clinic where Amini had been treated released a statement on Instagram stating she was already brain dead by the time she arrived on 13 September, the same day as her arrest and “briefing class” in the detention centre. The social media post was deleted soon after.
On 17 September, the police chief of Tehran made a statement claiming that the grounds for Amini’s arrest had been for wearing both tight pants and her headscarf improperly. Hospital pictures of the victim show her bleeding from the ear with heavy bruising under her eyes. Doctor Hossein Karampour, the top medical official of the Hormozgan province, indicated that Amini’s symptoms “do not match the reasons given by some authorities who declared the cause to be a heart attack… [they are instead consistent with] a head injury and the resulting bleeding.” This was subsequently confirmed by alleged medical scans of her skull leaked by hacktivists which display a bone fracture, haemorrhage, and brain oedema.
Nevertheless, the Iranian government even forged fake medical records for Amini indicating that the victim had a history of heart disease. By 20 September, neurosurgeon Dr Massoud Shirvani claimed on state-owned television that Amini, in addition to the alleged heart disease, suffered a brain tumour which was extracted at age eight. The following day the hospital released preliminary CT scans. Government supporters claimed the CT scans showed signs of psychological stress caused by the alleged brain operation whilst government critics declared the scans clearly show intense physical beating and trauma. The Iranian government then retracted their previous statement about Amini’s supposed brain operation claiming it occurred at age five instead of age eight.
On 22 September, Amjad Amini, Mahsa Amini’s father, refuted the government’s claims and informed the BBC the Iranian government was “lying” about Mahsa’s medical history. He continued by stating that his daughter never “had any medical conditions” nor underwent any “surgery.” Even two of Mahsa’s classmates, also interviewed by the BBC, said they were not even aware if the victim had ever been to the hospital prior to her death. Her father also stated he had been forbidden to examine the autopsy reports by the government and/or the body cameras of the security officers, given that they had been “out of battery” during the incident. Amjad also refuted the claims that his daughter was wearing immodest clothes upon her arrest given that she “always wore a long overcoat.” He was also repeatedly denied the opportunity to see his daughter’s body after her death by the medical staff and was told by the chief doctor writing her autopsy report that “[The doctor] will write whatever [he wants] and it has nothing to do with [Amjad].” After Mahsa’s body had been wrapped for the funeral, he noticed bruising on his daughter’s feet but did not get the chance to examine the rest of her body owing to the wrapping.
On 29 September, an audio file was released by a former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps which reports unnamed “reliable sources” stating that Amini’s death was in fact an injury to her skull caused by a severe beating. In a letter dated 13 October, over 800 members of Iran’s Medical Council accused the head of the institution of assisting the government in a cover-up of the true cause of Amini’s death.
The protests and civil unrest against the government of Iran began in Tehran, the location of the original arrest, on 16 September 2022, as a reaction to the death of Amini the day following her short but fatal time in police custody. Eyewitnesses claim that Amini was severely beaten by the Guidance Patrol officers, an assertion which has undoubtedly been denied by Iranian authorities. The protests began hours after the news of the victim’s death, originating at the hospital in Tehran where she was treated and then quickly spreading to other parts of the country including her hometown of Saqqez and other cities in the province of Kurdistan such as Sanandaj, Divandarreh, Baneh, and Bijar. In response to these demonstrations, the Iranian government began implementing regional shutdowns of Internet access to prevent the news from further going viral on social media and other news outlets until finally imposing a widespread Internet blackout. On 3 October, in his first statement since the outbreak of the protests nearly two weeks earlier, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed the widespread unrest as “riots” and implied they were a foreign plot.
According to Iran Human Rights, as 8 October 2022, at least 185 people have been killed as a result of the government’s intervention in the protests. Since the government responded to the protests with tear gas and live rounds, the protests for Amini rank as the second deadliest since Iran’s 2019-2020 protests which resulted in more than 1500 fatalities. The government’s response to the protests has largely been condemned and the United States Department of Treasury has sanctioned the Guidance Patrol as well as several high-ranking Iranian officials. Amini’s beating and death caused widespread anger among several social networks. The hashtag #MahsaAmini became one of the most repeated hashtags on Persian Twitter; the number of tweets and retweets of these hashtags exceeded 80 million. In addition, some Iranian women began posting videos on social media of themselves cutting their hair in governmental protest. On 21 September, it was reported that the Iranian government had completely blocked internet access to Instagram and WhatsApp while also disrupting Internet service in Kurdistan and other parts of the country to silence the online unrest.
Following Amini’s death and the associated protests, individual countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union sanctioned Iran over human rights violations related to Amini’s death and the subsequent protests. According to Al-Jazeera, the EU also froze the assets of at least eleven Iranians including police officers and Iran’s information minister regarding their roles in the violent and deadly crackdown against the protests. Although Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn was “sceptical that the sanctions would [truly] ‘hurt’ Iran,” he remains firm in their decision. Asselborn states: “‘This regime may have worked during the last 40 years, but it is not working now. And that is why the European Union [must] take the first step [in condemning the behaviour of the Iranian government.]’”
It is becoming increasingly clear that protesters alone may not be able to topple this oppressive, and now lethal, regime. Protester deaths, at the hand of the country’s brutal security forces, have now risen to at least 448 people, including 60 children and 29 women as of 6 December 2022. Furthermore, 17 000 arrests have been made and 36 protesters have been charged with capital crimes, according to Hadi Ghaemi of the New York-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran. Five people have also been sentenced to death by hanging over the killing of a Basij paramilitary force member during the riots. These five individuals were convicted of “corruption on earth,” one of the most serious offences under Islamic sharia law in Iran.
In the coming months, all Iranian citizens (including women and children) are at risk. International aid and awareness of Iran’s precarious condition are necessary to hold the autocratic regime accountable for its continuous human rights violations and rampant crimes. Yet, the question remains: has Ms Amini’s death sparked the revolution that will facilitate concrete, fundamental change in government and permanently rewrite the country’s history? Only time will tell.
Avery Caroline Harle is a French-American writer, editor, and translator. With a Departmental Honours and Magna Cum Laude BA in Global Communications and Journalism from the American University of Paris, she is passionate about social justice and international human rights law. Fluent in French, English, and Italian, she is currently serving as a blog writer at the Platform for Peace and Humanity. Using both her language skills and passion for humanitarianism, Avery hopes to continue to forge her career in investigative journalism on a global scale.
 The Guidance Patrol refers to the Islamic religious morality police of Iran’s government. They are primarily concerned with enforcing the Islamic dress code, particularly the wearing of hijabs by women who must have their hair completely covered at all times.
 Rogg, I. (2022, September 29). Who was Mahsa Amini, the woman whose death sparked protests in Iran? Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://www.nzz.ch/english/who-was-mahsa-amini-the-face-of-mass-protests-in-iran-ld.1704917
 The Intelligence and Public Security Police of NAJA, also known as the Security Police, is a domestic security agency and law enforcement agency in Iran. The Morality Security brand is a subbranch acting as an Islamic religious police force. This branch oversees enforcing sumptuary laws or ending mixed parties by brutally beating, arresting, imprisoning, starving, torturing, and executing participants.
 Associated Press. (2022, September 19). (video) Mahsa Amini is the latest victim of the misogynist mullahs’ regime in Iran. AP NEWS. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-iran-france-arrests-d2885fc65f51a6ee8758791e192c6992
 France 24. (2022, September 15). Iranian woman in coma after morality police arrest: activists. France 24. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20220915-iranian-woman-in-coma-after-morality-police-arrest-activists
 Bunkall, A. (2022, September 26). Mahsa Amini was ‘tortured and insulted’ before death in police custody in Iran, her cousin says. Sky News. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://news.sky.com/story/mahsa-amini-was-tortured-and-insulted-before-she-died-in-police-custody-in-iran-her-cousin-says-12705226
 Hamedani, A. (2022, September 17). Mahsa Amini: Women take headscarves off in protest at funeral. BBC News. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-62940907
 Rothwell, J. (2022, September 16). Iranian woman dies after beating by ‘morality police’ for not wearing headscarf. The Telegraph. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2022/09/16/iranian-woman-dies-beating-morality-police-not-wearing-headscarf/
 Ibid. at 7.
 Landesweite proteste nach Tod von Mahsa Amini: DW: 19.09.2022. DW.COM. (2022, September 19). Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://www.dw.com/de/landesweite-proteste-nach-tod-von-mahsa-amini/a-63168449
 Motamedi, M. (2022, September 21). Iran denies Mahsa Amini, woman who died in custody, was beaten. Women’s Rights News | Al Jazeera. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/9/19/irans-police-denies-women-who-died-in-custody-was-beaten
 RFE/RL’s Radio Farda. (2022, September 21). Iranian medical official says Amini’s death caused by head injury, rejects official version. RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-amini-death-head-injury-doctor/32042587.html
 Al Arabiya English. (2022, September 19). Mahsa Amini’s medical scans show skull fractures caused by ‘severe trauma’: Report. Al Arabiya News. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://english.alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2022/09/19/Mahsa-Amini-s-medical-scans-show-skull-fractures-caused-by-severe-trauma-Report
 Iran International. (2022, September 25). Exclusive: Khamenei Doctor Sought to Forge Mahsa Amini’s Records. Iran International. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://www.iranintl.com/en/202209256799
 Wintour, P. (2022, September 21). Three people killed in Iran protests over death of Mahsa Amini. The Guardian. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/20/iran-death-mahsa-amini-protests-morality-police
 BBC. (2022, September 22). Iran: Mahsa Amini’s father accuses authorities of a cover-up. BBC News. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-62998231
 The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) refers to a branch of the Iranian Armed Forces founded after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Revolutionary Guard is intended to protect the country’s Islamic republic political system which supporters believe includes preventing foreign interference and coups by the military or “deviant movements.” The IRGC is designated as a terrorist organization by the governments of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.
 Former IRGC Commander: Forensics Report Says Mahsa Amini Died of Skull Injury. IranWire. (2022, September 29). Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://iranwire.com/en/politics/108075-former-irgc-commander-forensics-report-says-mahsa-amini-died-of-skull-injury/
 Ibid. at 12.
 Leonhardt, D. (2022, September 26). Iran’s Ferocious Dissent. The New York Times. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/26/briefing/iran-protests-mahsa-amini.html
 Strzyżyńska, W. (2022, September 16). Iranian woman dies ‘after being beaten by Morality Police’ over hijab law. The Guardian. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/sep/16/iranian-woman-dies-after-being-beaten-by-morality-police-over-hijab-law
 Thomson Reuters. (2022, September 20). Protests flare across Iran in violent unrest over woman’s death. Reuters. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/tehran-governor-accuses-protesters-attacks-least-22-arrested-2022-09-20/
 Bonifacic, I. (2022, September 21). Iran restricts access to WhatsApp and Instagram in response to Mahsa Amini protests. Engadget. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://www.engadget.com/iran-restricts-internet-access-mahsa-amini-protests-194512075.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9lbi53aWtpcGVkaWEub3JnLw&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAJNwON7cIjHI5Nj4wQuxGCxE6qJLW2sloq4MlPiC8AD7AvOrhsoEESOAVi-LwOPxJslC9axogM2o4MwXDjGUDvzH7_1GnOjnioNzqJ7EeYOmnXoALaavcSnLnPiATl4GFnRMmlVdg9RyheDsl8JfFRlO–m5ZA3o0sYrcOCO3b-a
 Motamedi, M. (2022, October 3). Iran’s Khamenei blames Israel, US in first comments on protests. News | Al Jazeera. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://www.aljazeera.com/amp/news/2022/10/3/irans-khamenei-blames-israel-us-in-first-comments-on-protests
 Iran Human Rights (IHR) refers to a non-profit international non-governmental organization focused on human rights in Iran. Founded in 2005, it is a non-partisan and politically independent organisation based in Oslo, Norway. The human rights defender and neuroscientist Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam is the co-founder and international spokesperson of the organisation.
 2019-2020 Iranian civil protests, sometimes known as “Bloody November” or “Bloody Alban” in Persian, were originally caused by a 50-200% increase in fuel prices. They then escalated as part of a wider Iranian Democracy Movement leading to calls for the overthrow of the Iranian government and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. They eventually became the most violent and severe anti-government unrest since the rise of Iran’s Islamic Republic in 1979.
 Ibid. at 30.
 Thomson Reuters. (2022, September 18). Fury grows in Iran over woman who died after hijab arrest. Reuters. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/fury-grows-iran-over-woman-who-died-after-hijab-arrest-social-media-2022-09-18/
 Trends Desk. (2022, September 20). Iran women cut their hair to protest against death of 22-year-old woman in custody. The Indian Express. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://indianexpress.com/article/trending/trending-globally/iran-women-cut-their-hair-to-protest-against-death-of-22-year-old-woman-8160043/
 Thomson Reuters. (2022, September 21). As unrest grows, Iran restricts access to Instagram, WhatsApp. Reuters. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iran-restricts-access-instagram-netblocks-2022-09-21/
 Al Jazeera. (2022, October 17). EU imposes sanctions on Iran’s morality police and officials. European Union News | Al Jazeera. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/10/17/eu-imposes-sanctions-on-irans-morality-police-officials
 de Bellaigue, C. (2022, December 6). Iran’s moment of truth: What will it take for the people to topple the regime? The Guardian. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/dec/06/irans-moment-of-truth-what-will-it-take-for-the-people-to-topple-the-regime
 RFI. (2022, December 6). Iran sentences five to hang over protest-linked killing. RFI. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from https://www.rfi.fr/en/international-news/20221206-iran-sentences-five-to-hang-over-protest-linked-killing