Iranian protestors “will not give up”, Express.co.uk has been told by a former freedom fighter, as the country’s police force is accused of killing at least 23 children to try and crush demonstrations. The latest estimates by Iran’s Human Rights Activists News Agency estimated that 222 people have been killed in or after demonstrations prompted by the “brutal” death of Mahsa Amini, 22, at the hands of the so-called “morality police” after she was arrested for wearing her headscarf incorrectly. Violence has particularly escalated in the Kurdish-populated city of Sanandaj, where police have been accused of “massacring” demonstrators, while Amnesty International has recorded the names of 144 dead – although they estimate the figure to be much higher. 16 percent of these were children. Diana Nammi, who fought as a Kurdish freedom fighter for 12 years and since founded of the Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, has explained why the protesters will not give up in their efforts to free women from government oppression, even in the face of violence.
Ms Nammi, co-author of “Girl With A Gun: Love, loss and the fight for freedom in Iran”, told Express.co.uk: “They are being very violent. It is really hard – especially with this fundamentalist government, who are used to having power, and they are stalling. They won’t give in easily”.
She added the government are refusing to see the message and instead are trying to blame America or separatist groups, but added: “People are fed up with the situation. They’re fed up with the cost of living crisis, with unemployment, and with having no freedom of expression. They will not give up. It is their right to demonstrate and be free from persecution. The basic human rights for Iranian people are not there. Now women are reclaiming their lives.
“This is so important because for the last four decades, women’s lives have been stolen from them.”
The child victims of violence by Iranian police recorded by Amnesty International include 20 boys aged between 11 and 17, and three girls, two of whom were 16 years old and one 17 years old. The activist organisation statest that most of the boys were killed by security forces unlawfully firing live ammunition at them.
Meanwhile, two boys died after being shot with metal pellets at close range, and three girls and a boy died after fatal beatings by security forces.
The organisation added that police forces have been coercing and intimidating families into saying that the children’s deaths are due to suicide to try and cover up their crimes.
Founding director of Iranian Studies at St Andrew’s University, Professor Ali Ansari, added to Express.co.uk that the violence “is sadly routine by now”.
He said that during protests in 2019, “authorities may have killed over 1000 protestors”, while in 2009 it was “likely more”.
He added: “It’s depressing but also unsustainable in the long term.”
However, there is a sense that the protests being seen in Iran following the death of Ms Amini are more significant than those before, with multiple reasons given for why these may finally make concrete change in the Iranian regime.
Professor Ali said that while this kind of unrest is “not unusual anymore in Iranian society”, he added that these protests are “more culturally and politically motivated, with less fear and with a determination to rid themselves of the Islamic Republic. On previous occasions protests had economic causes or as in 2009 they started with the reform of the system in mind.
“Now people are cutting to the chase and the fact that the demographic is so young suggests that efforts to suppress opposition has catastrophically failed. No one can be sure when the change will come but the direction of travel is clear.”
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Ms Nammi also highlighted the significance of the younger generation being involved in the protests, adding that this time round the protests involved “all of Iran”.
She said: “It’s really important that something happens this time – and this time, it’s all the women, and the men are very much supporting them. Both men and women are being very brave and courageous. Everyone is so united.”
The unity seen in Iran is particularly significant due to the historic persecution of the Kurdish population by the Iranian government. Ms Amini herself was visiting Tehran from her home in Kurdistan when she was killed, and while the government has attempted to exploit the historical divide between Kurds and the rest of the Iranian population to split up the protestors, this appears to thus far have failed.
Ms Nammi added that the protests had in no small part been “driven by the younger generation” due to their ability to access the internet, dulling the Iranian government’s ability to control them.
She said: “They have access to the world via the internet, they know real life, they know their rights, and they don’t accept oppression.”
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An open letter signed by 61 women’s groups from across the world has called for “urgent reform” into Iran’s policies on women, adding that their current position “continues to foster insecurity and inequality in the country.” The letter also refers to recent polls which found that 72 percent of Iranians do not believe the hijab should be enforced by the government, but that it is a matter of choice for Muslim women.
Dima Dabbous, the Middle East and North Africa consultant for women and girls advocacy group Equality Now, told Express.co.uk: “The international community must not turn a blind eye to these attacks on women’s fundamental rights. Governments such as Iran need to be held fully to account for implementing misogynistic laws and policies that contravene international human rights standards, and for punishing its citizens for peaceful protest. Calling for greater rights for women and girls should never be treated as a crime.”
Professor Ali said that the death of Ms Amini was “symbolic of a wide malaise” regarding the treatment of women “growing harsher since President Raisi took over last summer”, adding that it was only “a matter of time before someone got seriously hurt”.
Ms Nammi added that her death was particularly shocking, saying: “Mahsa was very nice, very young, and it was her first time in Tehran, coming from Kurdistan. They were just a family who wanted to go for a holiday, and she was brutally killed. It was so unfair, so unjust, and so brutal.”