A rally in Regina saw hundreds present to oppose state-sanctioned violence in Iran and the inaction toward it
It has been over a month since mass protests broke out in Iran. On September 16, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman named Mahsa Amini died in a Tehran hospital. Amini was detained by the Iranian morality police who alleged her hijab did not meet dress code. Iranian authorities claim that Amini died of a heart attack due to a pre-existing condition. Independent observers deny this, asserting that Amini most likely died from a cerebral hemorrhage caused by police brutality.
When Amini was declared dead by Iranian authorities, protests began in Tehran. These quickly spread to other provinces in the country. Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI) claims that since the protests began, the Iranian government has killed at least 240 demonstrators. HRAI also claims that there have been over 900 injuries and over 12,000 arrests. Internet blackouts have also been imposed, which are meant to stifle dissent and impede organizing by protestors. Internet blackouts are also used so that the government can escape accountability for its brutality.
Rallies of solidarity have been held throughout the world this past month, including here in Regina. On Saturday, October 22, a sizeable crowd gathered in front of the Legislative Building. The rally began at 1 p.m., and already there were about 150 people present.
Banners and placards floated above the crowd. “Freedom for Iran,” “Say her name: Mahsa Amini,” “No more forced hijab,” “Death to the dictator,” “Woman, life, freedom,” and “Justice for Mahsa” were just some of the messages protestors took with them. There were also large photographs of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, made to appear stained with blood. Other photographs featured Putin and Khamenei shaking hands with a caption reading “Murderers.”
Shiva Souri, an Iranian woman who recently immigrated to Canada, gave a furious speech to an equally furious crowd. Souri spoke with righteous anger and strength. She spoke about the corruption of the Iranian government. She rallied against Western nations that are not doing enough to help the Iranian people. “Your silence is the regime’s violence,” she shouted into the microphone. Souri also mentioned Iran selling arms to Russia, which the Russian military is likely using to perpetrate its criminal invasion of Ukraine. “We demand the end of the regime, […] revolution is the only solution,” she declared.
The day before the rally, I spoke to Shiva Riazian about her experiences living in Iran. She spent her whole life in Iran, until last year when she immigrated to Canada. “We don’t have any freedom of speech back home,” she said. “We don’t have any chance that we can change our religion. We have so many conflicts about basic human rights over there.”
Riazian explained to me that change is wanted. In 1979, the Iranian Revolution was promising radical change, a shift from the old monarchical system under the Shah. However, the radical change that was promised turned out to be very different than previously imagined. Instead of democratic reform and greater freedom of conscience, the Islamic Republic of Iran imposed a new set of strict and oppressive rules. “I don’t say that my people don’t want hijabs. Some of them want hijabs, some of them don’t want hijabs; they want to choose. And we can’t change our religion. If we change our religion, […] they will execute us.”
Riazian also stressed that the protests both inside and outside Iran are not merely about the hijab. Commenting on runaway inflation, Riazian said, “our money is not working anymore. […] The current situation is not acceptable for anyone.” Criticizing the West’s tactic of sanctioning high government officials in Iran, Riazian said, “Putting sanctions isn’t helping us. It’s somehow helping us a little, but it’s not the solution.”
After about an hour of speeches, enthusiastic chants, and singing Persian songs, the rally left the steps of the Legislative Building. Demonstrators marched down Albert Street to the Albert Memorial Bridge. There, the demonstrators waved flags and displayed signs to passing traffic. The human chain spanned over half the bridge. Drivers honked and waved as they passed.
Around 2:30 p.m., the rally began to dwindle. Many Iranians will continue to fight the theocratic government in their country. When facing behemoths like the regime in Iran, it is easy to slip into despair and cynicism. But there will always be people like Shiva Riazian, indignant and enraged at injustice. “Iran is not a paradise. […] For us, Iran is like a hell,” she told me. So, what is the solution? “Most people [in Iran] want revolution.”