A Year After Mahsa Amini's Death: Protests, Repression, and Demand for Justice

A Year After Mahsa Amini's Death: Protests, Repression, and Demand for Justice
Photo by Artin Bakhan via Unsplash


Perla Khaled

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

Thousands took to the streets in Iran on September 16, 2023, to commemorate the one-year death anniversary of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was arrested on charges of alleged non-compliance with mandatory hijab regulations and died while in the custody of Iran’s morality police. [1]

Protests were organised in various Iranian cities, including Tehran, Mashad, Ahvaz, Lahijan, Arak, and Senandaj, a Kurdish city. Protestors chanted “Women, Life, Freedom” , a slogan which gained worldwide popularity following Amini’s death in 2022. [2] Demonstrations were also organised in European capitals like Paris, Brussels, London, and Berlin, as protestors highlighted the significance of speaking up, especially in light of ongoing restrictions on freedom of speech in Iran. [3]

In response, armed guards were deployed across several areas to prevent potential protests, and there were instances of police pursuing protesters, including in the northern city of Lahijan. [4] Human rights organisation Hengaw reported that security forces discharged firearms in Mahabad, resulting in at least one injury. Additionally, several people were wounded in Kermanshah, albeit there has been no official verification of either of these incidents. [5]

In another incident, the Iranian Islamic Republic News Agency (“the IRNA”) reported a fire in the women’s section of Qarchak prison in Tehran when inmates awaiting execution deliberately ignited their clothing. [6] The fire was subsequently extinguished with no reported casualties. The Kurdistan Human Rights Network, attributing the incident to the ongoing protests, claimed that special forces entered the prison ward, physically assaulted the female inmates and discharged pellet bullets. [7]

According to human rights groups, Mahsa’s father, Amjad, was briefly detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and cautioned against commemorating his daughter’s death. [8] However, Iranian state news agency IRNA denied this and claimed that security forces thwarted an attempt to harm him. [9] The Kurdistan Human Rights Network has further reported that family members of others who died during protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death have faced arrests and threats. [10]

Despite ongoing resistance, Iranian authorities have persisted in violating international human rights law, increasing their crackdown on the opposition to suppress dissent and redeploying the morality police. Lawmakers are additionally working to ratify a new hijab law, which may introduce new penalties for women deemed to be non-compliant. [11] Similarly, internet access in the country remains heavily constrained, and further disruptions are anticipated. All major international social media, messaging platforms, and numerous websites remain inaccessible, with no clear indications of their restoration. [12]

Protests that erupted following Amini’s death in 2022 culminated in the unlawful killings of over 500 individuals, including at least 70 minors, according to foreign-based human rights organisations. [13] Thousands were also detained, with many subsequently released following a pardon issued by Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei in February. However, several of those detained, including journalists, continue to be held in custody. [14] Furthermore, the government has escalated its use of the death penalty as a tool for political repression, with at least seven people executed in connection to the uprising and many more facing potential execution or death sentences due to their involvement in the protests. [15]

Sources and further reading:

[1] CNN, ‘Protests erupt in Iran, one year after Mahsa Amini’s death’ (17 September 2023) <https://edition.cnn.com/2023/09/17/middleeast/iran-protests-mahsa-amini-anniversary-intl-hnk/index.html> accessed 19 September 2023.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Reuters, ‘Iran's security forces crack down on protests a year after Mahsa Amini's death’ (17 September 2023) <https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/irans-security-forces-detain-mahsa-aminis-father-anniversary-her-death-rights-2023-09-16/> accessed 19 September 2023.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] BBC, ‘Mahsa Amini: Protesters mark one year since death of Iranian student’ (17 September 2023) <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-66834156> accessed 19 September 2023.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Al Jazeera, ‘Iran: One year after the death of Mahsa Amini’ (16 September 2023) <https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/9/16/iran-one-year-after-the-death-of-mahsa-amini> accessed 19 September 2023.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Amnesty International, ‘What happened to Mahsa/Zhina Amini?’ (15 September 2023) <https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/09/what-happened-to-mahsa-zhina-amini/> accessed 19 September 2023.