Newsha Niazmandi was born and raised in Iran and moved to the United States when she was 17. In recent days, her thoughts have focused on another young woman who lived in Iran – and whose death struck a global chord.
Mahsa Amini, 22, died last week after being arrested by Tehran vice police on charges of not wearing her hijab properly. Days of street protests in many Iranian cities turned deadly as protesters burned their headscarves and cut their hair in defiance of strict dress codes.
“It’s about feminism. Everyone should understand that women are fighting for their freedom,” said Niazmandi, one of hundreds of protesters who gathered outside the Wilshire Federal Building in Westwood on Wednesday night.
“They take to the streets to protest and they get shot,” she said of the Iranians. “If you see the videos there, they don’t care if you’re a woman or not; they don’t care if you have a hijab – they just want to crush you.
The hijab, a head covering worn by some Muslim women, has been compulsory in Iran since the 1979 revolution. The UN Human Rights Council says Iranian morality police have been crack down on women they accuse them of not wearing the hijab properly, reports the Associated Press.
According to the UN body, videos have surfaced showing women being beaten with batons, thrown into police vans and slapped in the face for not fully covering their hair.
Amini was born in Saqqez in western Iran and was traveling to Tehran with her family when she was arrested on September 1. 13. She died three days later. Police have denied Amini was abused and say she died of a heart attack, meanwhile his family said she had no heart problems and was in good health, multiple media reported.
Independent experts linked to the UN said Amini was beaten by morality police, but did not provide evidence. The UN human rights office has called for an investigation into his death.
“Iranian security forces will continue to feel emboldened to kill or injure protesters and prisoners, including women arrested for defying abusive compulsory veil laws, if they are not held accountable,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Middle East Director at Amnesty International, in a statement Wednesday.
Los Angeles is home to the largest number of people of Iranian descent outside of Iran. Many live in Tehrangels, a Persian enclave in Westwood that began in the 1960s and exploded after the 1979 revolution. There were 87,000 people of Iranian ancestry in the city in 2019, according to Census Bureau figures.
Many community members are now taking to the streets of Los Angeles in solidarity with protests over Amini’s death around the world.
“Similar to George Floyd and what happened here in the United States, Iranians are just fed up and they want women to have their rights,” said Jon Asghari, who lived in Iran as a child but moved to the United States about 15 years ago. August The 28-year-old said it was just the ‘minimum’ to turn up at Wednesday’s protest and help ‘spread the word’.
Ariana Siddiq, 22, said Amini’s death was particularly disturbing because it could happen to any woman in Iran.
“I could have visited Iran and my hijab could have fallen off slightly and I could have been killed in Iran,” she said at the protest. “If that happened, then America would do something since I’m an American citizen.”
In the ongoing unrest between protesters and Iranian security forces, at least nine people were killed since the protests began over the weekend, the AP reported Thursday. The protests coincide with President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
The Iranians reported widespread internet shutdowns after the country blocked access to Instagram and WhatsApp and completely shut down the internet in parts of Tehran and Kurdistan in a bid to quell growing dissent, the Guardian reported.
Raisi tried to deflect indignation on Amini’s death while addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday. I made reference to migrant children detained in the United States and the difficulties faced by Palestinians.
“Human rights belong to everyone, but unfortunately they are violated by many governments,” Raisi said.
Emily Doyle, 23, whose mother was born in Iran, said she finds it difficult to speak out against Iran because she worries about the negative view many Americans have of Iranians. But at the end of the day, she thinks it’s important to stand up for women’s rights.
“[Iran doesn’t] don’t have internet right now,” Doyle said. “They took Instagram down, and now I think the internet is out in Iran. That’s part of why it’s important to be here, because we have the internet and we can continue to spread the message of what’s going on.
Siddiq stressed that Iranians in America should speak out as they have more freedom to protest.
“It just goes to show that we have to be the ones doing it,” she said. “We are less likely to be killed than in a country like Iran. Women are being killed for protesting. If you are in the United States and you are able to protest, you can do so too. they don’t have a voice right now, we have to be their voice.
Niazmandi said she understood what it felt like to be “oppressed” and “damned by your society as a woman” because she attended an all-girls school in Iran and had to adhere to a strict dress code, including the obligation to wear a hijab and to cut one’s nails to a certain length.
“I want to be there,” she said of Iran. “I want to go out and I want to show my hair, and I want to be the person who burns her headscarf. When I see women without hijab in front of the police knowing they’re going to get beat up at some point, it’s inspiring and brave. They’ve gotten to the point of desperation that they just have to stand there and say, ‘Hey, look at me.’ I’m hijab-free and I’m here for my human rights.
“It had to happen at some point, and now it’s happening, and I’m really happy for them,” Niazmandi added. “I’m also very sad because it’s not for free. They make a lot of sacrifices there.