Death by modesty police? Iranian women burn head coverings to protest #MahsaAmini

Mahsa Amini

A young Iranian woman, 22, has died in custody after being arrested by Iran’s morality police for improper clothing. Her death sparked anger on social media under her name #MahsaAmini.

Iran has released footage from the time of Mahsa Amini’s arrest up until she collapsed in a police station. Officials say she had a heart attack and pre-existing condition. People on the street, and her family, demand better treatment of people while in custody. Women all over Iran have been burning their hijabs in protest.

According to Iranian reports, Ahmed Mirzaei, who heads the moral security police of Greater Tehran, was suspended after the death of Amini. Her family says the police were slow to respond to her when she collapsed in the station.

The so-called “morality police” known formally in Iran as the Gasht-e Ershad translates to “Guidance” Patrol.”

Iran has a thing for policing modesty. If you are a woman in Iran your life can be a nightmare if you choose not to wear the Muslim traditional head-covering called the hijab. You can also go to jail (for 20 years) for dancing on social media

Other personal freedoms are limited too –– such as the clothes you wear, dancing anywhere or drinking alcohol, or hanging out with men. Practicing homosexuality can get you killed in Iran whether you are a man or a homosexual woman. And now, that might happen if you choose not to wear a hijab and find yourself in police custody.

Mahsa Amini

Mahsa Amini, without a head covering, in a coma at the hospital

Iran has a reputation for evaporating people, or for whisking them away and brainwashing them until they lose a part of themselves like the Godfather of blogging Hossein Derakhshan we interviewed in the past –– or Soheil Arabi who was sentenced to death for his Facebook posts.

While we’ve interviewed many women on the pleasure of wearing a hijab, (and while on the topic of pleasure, female circumcision in Islam) there are just as many women who decide to show their hair in public or on social media.

It’s a problem in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iran’s been using cameras to spot women in the crowd not wearing a hijab and it’s a PR headache now for the morality police that a woman has died while in their hands.  

The latest incident has sparked outrage among Muslim women in Iran who have started burning their hijabs, flinging them into the fire, the way women burned their bras in the 60s. It has also propelled Iran’s modesty police to center stage as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is rumoured to be flailing under poor health. He could die any day.

I don’t celebrate the death of anyone. But may Khamenei’s passing, in his time, be a time of renewal for Iranian. May it be a time that Muslims, Sufis, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and those without a faith practice, in Iran, be able to practice freely without hindering creativity, art and sensuality. 

Heard the quote from Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi? “Although the 1979 revolution in Iran is often called an Islamic revolution, it can actually be said to be a revolution of men against women.” 

Green Prophet’s been covering a sustainable Middle East since 2007. Curious about sustainability issues and social issues in Iran? Read all about Iran here. Or click on the Azadi tower below.

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