How the death of Iranian Mahsa Amini caused thousands of women to defy hijab laws

How the death of Iranian Mahsa Amini caused thousands of women to defy hijab laws

Iran is facing international criticism over the death of a young Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, who died while she was held by the country’s morality police.

Protests have erupted across the country, causing unrest and clashes with security forces.

Here’s a recap of the events that led up to this.

What happened to Mahsa Amini?

Ms Amini was visiting Iran’s capital, Tehran, from her hometown in the country’s western Kurdish region.

On September 13, Iran’s morality police arrested her.

They said she was wearing her hijab too loosely.

While in police custody, she fell into a coma and died three days later.

A photos of a young woman in black with loose headscarf staring off camera
Ms Amini was arrested for not wearing her hijab properly.(Reuters: IranWire)

Advocates accused the morality police of beating Ms Amini.

Police rejected the allegations, saying the 22-year-old had a heart attack as she waited with other detained women at a morality police station.

“Based on detailed investigations, since her transfer to the vehicle and also at the [station], there was no physical encounter with her,” a police statement said.

But Ms Amini’s father told pro-reform news website Emtedad his daughter had no health problems or history of heart issues.

He said his daughter was bruised and he held the police responsible for her death.

Iran’s state broadcaster aired footage that appeared to show a woman identified as Ms Amini falling over after getting up from her seat to speak to an official at a police station — but the video could not be independently verified.

What is Iran’s morality police?

Iran’s morality police is the component of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces (LEF), tasked with enforcing the country’s laws against immodesty and societal vices.

The country requires women to wear the headscarf in a way that completely covers their hair when in public.

What are the hijab laws in Iran?

The hijab has been compulsory for women in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the morality police are charged with enforcing that and other restrictions.

Iranian women have full access to education, work outside the home and hold public office.

But they are required to dress modestly in public, which includes wearing the hijab as well as long, loose-fitting robes.

What’s happening with the protests in Iran?

Protests following Ms Amini’s death began on Saturday and have now spread to more than 80 Iranian cities.

Most of the demonstrations have been concentrated in Iran’s Kurdish-populated north-west.

A human rights group said at least 31 civilians had been killed in the unrest, while state television put the death toll at 17.

In Tehran and some Kurdish cities, protesters torched police stations and vehicles on Thursday as public outrage over the death showed no signs of easing, with reports of security forces coming under attack.

A police motorcycle burns in the street during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini.
Protesters have torched police stations and vehicles as public outrage over the death of Mahsa Amini shows no signs of easing.(Reuters: WANA)

The demonstrations over Ms Amini’s death are the biggest in the Islamic Republic since 2019, when protests erupted over a government hike in the price of gasoline.

Rights groups say hundreds were killed in the crackdown that followed, the deadliest violence since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

How has the world reacted to Ms Amini’s death?

Videos online show some women tearing off their mandatory headscarves, demonstratively twirling them in the air.

Others show some Iranian women cutting off their hair while at a protest.

Women take part in a sit-in following the death of Mahsa Amini, at Martyrs' Square in Beirut, Lebanon
Women take part in a sit-in following the death of Ms Amini, in Beirut, Lebanon.(Reuters: Mohamed Azakir)

Demonstrations have taken place in countries around the world, from Greece to Turkey to Canada.

Play Video. Duration: 1 minute 1 second
Demonstrations are held around the world following death of Iranian Mahsa Amini

On Thursday, the United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police, accusing them of abuse and violence against Iranian women and of violating the rights of peaceful Iranian protesters, the US Treasury said.

A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said they want accountability for the death of Ms Amini.

“Mahsa Amini’s death after injuries sustained while in police custody for wearing an ‘improper’ hijab is an appalling and egregious affront to human rights,” the official said.

“Women in Iran should have the right to wear what they want, free from violence or harassment. Iran must end its use of violence against women for exercising their fundamental freedoms.”

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In Australia, advocates are urging the federal government to “call out” Iranian authorities’ harsh response to the protests.

Nos Hosseini, the Melbourne-based president of the Iranian Women’s Association, described the crackdown as a “brutal attack on women’s rights and women’s liberties”.

“What’s important right now is for the international community to take a really strong stance … and the Australian government needs to be part of that, and call out the Iranian regime for its human rights violations” she said.

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) spokesperson said the government was “deeply concerned by reports that people have been killed and many more injured”.

“The Australian government is alarmed by the heavy-handed measures Iranian authorities have implemented … including the use of violence against protesters and efforts to restrict internet access,” they said.

“We support the right of the Iranian people to protest peacefully.

“We call on the Iranian authorities to exercise restraint in response to ongoing demonstrations.”

How has Iran’s government responded?

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry has warned that attending protests over the death of Ms Amini is illegal and anyone who takes part will face prosecution, Iranian news websites have reported.

On Wednesday, the governor of Tehran said that authorities arrested three foreign nationals at protests in the capital, without elaborating.

Iranian security forces have arrested at least 25 people, and the governor of the Kurdistan province says three people have been killed by armed groups in unrest linked to the protests. However, the exact death roll remains unconfirmed.