December 5, 2023

In Iran, young people go around without veils to demand more freedoms | world

Veiled and non-veiled women in the streets of Tehran in March 2023 – Photo: Murielle Paradon/RFI

In Iran, six months after the death of Mahsa Amini, street protests calling for greater freedoms have dwindled, mainly due to severe repression. However, the determination of some young people is still the same. RFI Report spoke with three students about their demands and desires for the country.

They arranged to meet at a coffee shop near the University of Tehran. Three friends in their twenties, three college students in jeans and sneakers, with long brown hair. It was unimaginable six months ago: these young women do not wear the veil, even though Iranian law obliges them to do so. Mahsa Amini’s death changed their lives.

After the death of a young Kurdish woman due to an improperly placed veil, Shirin* decided to join the protest movement to demand more freedom, particularly the freedom to wear whatever she wanted.

“In the beginning, we were very afraid, because if you don’t wear a veil on your head, it means a death sentence for you. It takes audacity to remove the veil. But we must continue to do so, for those who have sacrificed themselves.”

For several months now, young men and women have been campaigning against wearing the hijab in Iran and calling for more freedoms. The slogans are clearly hostile to the Islamic regime. Hundreds killed, thousands arrested, young people executed.

The repression is fierce. Jasmine * I tried this. She miraculously survived during a demonstration. “I managed to escape, but we were shot,” she testified, recounting how she and her friends found refuge in a house. The young woman tells how the landlord helped the young protesters by preventing the police from entering her house. He escaped arrest, but many of Jasmine’s friends are not so lucky: “Many were arrested, shot, some are still in trouble, and they can’t go back to university,” he says.

Religious education lessons as punishment

With the repression, the protests subsided. Taking off the headscarf has become an act of resistance that is increasingly evident in the streets of Tehran, and especially in coffee shops.

Sherine symbolically burned her headscarf on her university campus during a meeting between boys and girls. As a result, she took ten compulsory courses in Islamic education to remind her of the rules.

“The mullah came to give us lessons in Islam and theology, told us about divine laws. Then they returned the confiscated student identity cards to us,” he explains, “but after two or three punishments, the girls could be dismissed from their studies, and the boys sent to military service.”

The young woman scoffs at the religious education courses she had to take: “Basically, they say they love Supreme Leader Khamenei and that Khomeini was a good person, and Khomeini was honest. But under the Shah who previously ruled the country, women were not allowed to study! All they told us is It was bothering us and driving us back to protesting in the streets to put an end to these fools,” he asserts.

An appeal to the older generations

The rejection of the mullahs’ regime is very present among some young people. Ava*, also a student, would like the youth protest movement to spread to other sectors of the population and go beyond the headscarf issue.

Hijab is one of the pillars of the Islamic Republic. For more than 40 years they have tried by all means to impose it on us. And by disrespecting the use of the veil, we are calling into question the very existence of the Islamic Republic. But it’s true that we want more,” Ava gushes.

“We are waiting for the silent majority to speak. We especially hope that inflation and the high cost of living will prompt everyone to express their anger and that it is not only our generation that is making sacrifices.”

And he adds, “At some point, those who participated in the 1979 revolution must also revolt. And that we are trying to overthrow power by all means.”

The regime’s control of the situation has discouraged Iranian youth from returning en masse to the streets. But these three young women are convinced that protests will return sooner or later. “You’ve planted a seed, and it takes time for it to grow,” Ava concludes.

*Names have been changed for security reasons