Rabbitholed #59: Why Are Iranians Asking the World to "Be Our Voice"? Because the Journalist Who Broke the Story of How Iran's "Morality Police" Killed Mahsa Amini Is Now...Arrested. In Prison.
Niloofar Hamedi visited the hospital and broke the story that may bring down a regime: Mahsa Amini, 22, was bludgeoned for wearing a too-loose hijab. Now Amini is dead and Hamedi is locked up.
This post is free. Please let Iranian protestors know they have your support in whatever way that looks like for you. Follow and amplify #opIran and #MahsaAmini posts to let the Iranian people know your support. If you’re a journalist, cover the story. Speak out about the horrific arrest of journalist Niloofar Hamedi and express the need to #FreeNiloofarHamedi. If you’re a citizen online, spread the word. Whatever you can do, apply public and visible pressure to Iran so that those who are bravely risking it all right now to stand up to a brutally oppressive regime will not be sacrificing their lives in vain.
Iran is on fire on the verge of revolution thanks to the brave work of a single reporter who dared to go to the hospital to report the story that a brutal dictatorship did not want anyone to know about: the story of Mahsa Amini.
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On September 13, while on vacation with her family before beginning microbiology classes at university and to celebrate her upcoming birthday, a beautiful young woman with bright, sparkling eyes named Mahsa Amini was detained at the entrance to a metro station in Tehran by the country’s so-called Morality Police because her hijab was deemed too loose.
Her brother protested and begged the Morality Police (gashte ershad or “guidance patrol”) for them not to take her. But they said she needed to be taken away to a re-education center because she was wearing the hijab in an “improper” way.
Instead, she was beaten and bloodied and pronounced brain-dead shortly thereafter.
She would have turned 23 years old three days ago.
Only one reporter managed to get into the heavily restricted Kasra Hospital to get the story that would turn the country upside down: Niloofar Hamedi. She tweeted this picture of the grieving family:
It translates to: “Her grandmother was singing a Kurdish song and her father just came from Hashtgerd and kept saying, ‘Do something for my daughter.” Shame on me! Shame on us. We cannot do anything. The black suit of mourning is our flag now.”
By September 16, Mahsa was dead.
“Mahsa’s face was swollen and her legs are bruised,” Mahsa’s brother Kiarash said of his dying sister. The picture of her lying in the hospital, showing blood collecting around the eyes and around her ears are consistent with a scalp base fracture.
Iranian authorities denied all of this. They said it was a heart attack. They said she had health problems. They said to stop asking questions. The doctor treating her told the father about the autopsy report—which he wasn’t allowed to see—“I will write whatever I want and it has nothing to do with you.”
He only saw his daughter’s body after she was wrapped for burial. Only her feet and face were visible. He could see bruises on her. “They are lying,” Mahsa’s father said. “She never had any medical conditions.”
With her death, however, new life began immediately after—in the form of unprecedented protests immediately outside the hospital. Then the protests spread and spread and spread. I spoke with multiple Iranians and Iranian journalists for this piece, and all said the same thing.
They’ve never seen anything like this before. This time is different. Mahsa did not die in vain. Niloofar did not go to prison in vain. The young people are done. The old people, too. They will not live this way any longer.
Why You Should Care:
Something happens when people are captured fighting not just for their very lives on camera but for the very notion of freedom itself. You can practically feel it bursting through the computer screen. It gives you chills. It makes you cry. It makes you want to act. This generation is very different than previous generations. They don’t want to live dead, so they’re willing to die so that others might live free. The least we can do is bear witness. And while the president of Iran pretends to talk about wanting to get to the bottom of things, he hides anti-riot forces inside ambulances and has arrested the actual whistleblower. Her account on Twitter was suspended, too, immediately after breaking the story. And now she’s in prison. Iran is expecting you not to care. Do not prove them right.
“They Always Arrest the Whistleblowers”
To put the Ahmani story in perspective, consider Foreign Policy’s contextualization of how this dam of revolution has now burst wide open:
As evinced by the outburst of public indignation triggered by Amini’s death, her case is not seen as an isolated incident but the visible tip of an iceberg of injustice, humiliation, indignity, and oppression routinely felt by countless Iranian women intercepted by the so-called guidance patrols charged with enforcing Article 638 of the Islamic Penal Code: refusing to comply with state’s conception of “Islamic hijab” in public spaces is a criminal offense punishable by flogging, incarceration, or a fine.
Though both the article in question and the state’s discourse on mandatory hijab are infused with religious undertones, governing women’s bodies has its roots in worldly rather than spiritual aspirations: political power. It was during the first years of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that religion and religious symbols such as the hijab were weaponized in the interest of purging rival revolutionary factions from politics.
On the censorship and disinformation side, as people are rising up, what is happening right now is pure Iran playbook.
Likewise, the next time you see some grifter talk about how they’re on the run and need hundreds of thousands of your dollars to fund their video-game streams, show them what actual bravery looks. According to Barron’s:
Iranian security forces have arrested one of Iran's most prominent civil society activists and a journalist who played a key role in exposing the case of Mahsa Amini that sparked nationwide protests, reports said Friday.
The arrests come as protests intensify over Amini, who was pronounced dead on September 16 three days after being arrested by Tehran morality police, with activists saying at least 36 civilians have been killed in a police crackdown.
Majid Tavakoli, an activist who has been repeatedly imprisoned in Iran in recent years including after disputed 2009 elections, was arrested overnight at his home, his brother Mohsen wrote on Twitter.
Another prominent activist still based in Iran, Hossein Ronaghi, was giving an interview to London-based channel Iran International when security agents came to his home, the channel said.
A video published by the channel shows Ronaghi looking anxious but insisting the interview carried on.
It said the activist, who campaigns for freedom of expression, and contributes to the Washington Post, managed to escape arrest by slipping out via his building's car park and later issued a video message from an undisclosed location.
Meanwhile Nilufar Hamedi, a Tehran journalist who went to the hospital where Amini lay in a coma and helped expose the case to the world, has been arrested, the Shargh daily newspaper, for which she works, wrote on Telegram.
“Everything gets censored in Islamic Republic,” Sara, an Iranian computer engineer who now lives in Montreal tells me. “Books, movies, music, women, love. It’s not just a dictatorship, it’s a totalitarian regime. They don’t believe in human rights and everything they do is to save the regime, which is the priority for them. Since 99 percent of the population are against them, they always arrest the whistleblowers that reveal the truth.”
On September 16, journalist and commentator Negar Mortazavi posted the news of Mahsa Amini’s death. “UPDATE: Mahsa Amini has died, Iran sources report. The 22-year-old woman from Kurdistan was arrested by ‘morality police’ while visiting Tehran and went into a coma with visible bruises on her head. This is her family grieving in hospital. (Photo via @NiloofarHamedi).” If you click on the journalist’s Twitter profile ID, it reads: “Account suspended.” And just because I want you to really think about the implications underneath that it reads: “Twitter suspends accounts that violate the Twitter Rules.”
Think about that for a minute.
Twitter was petitioned by—likely—Iranian dictatorial authorities and censors who did not want this story out there, they happily obliged, and then—her account was obliterated. Gone.
It does not speak well for Twitter that they are suppressing one of the most important whistleblowers of the 21st century who now sits rotting in prison, unaccounted for and forgotten by the world as Iranians rise up in the streets. It does not speak well for Iran. The fact that so few people are even aware of any of this does not speak well for the world in general.
As Persian-language talk show host Sima Sabet wrote on Thursday, “Niloofar Hamedi is the journalist who went to Kasra hospital and broke the news about #MahsaAmini. She was arrested yesterday and her house was searched. Niloofar, you knew you are putting your life in danger by reporting such sensitive news, yet you did it. Thank you.”
Her inconceivable bravery has prompted so many more to speak out in turn.
Indeed, one element of the Iranian protests that is different than anything else the world has ever seen is the number of high-profile celebrities and artists around the globe who are lending their platform to speak up and out about the brutal murder of what one Iranian I spoke to called the “world’s daughter.” Including those who are then punished by the repressive regime for doing so. It’s worth taking that risk for them. Because they stand for something. Sometimes you just have to speak out.
These include TV star Kate Walsh, actress Leah Remini, model Bella Hadid, visual artist Shirin Neshat, actor Golshifteh Farahani, comedian Maz Jobrani, actor Nazanin Boniadi, author J.K. Rowling, K-Pop star Jiminx Jamie, fashion influencer Danielle Marcan, writer Margaret Atwood and rapper Hichkas.
To find out why one artist with a major platform spoke out, I corresponded with acclaimed Turkish conductor Masis Aram Gözbek, 34, who created a powerful choral performance featuring Boğaziçi Jazz Choir from Istanbul to demonstrate the power of how collectively people can rise up to carry on the fight of one individual.
He told me that he prepared the video a few years ago for International Women’s Day to raise awareness about violence. “Not only for women, but for all,” he said. “Since then, unfortunately, we see that violence increases everyday and everywhere.”
Which is what inspired him to share the video a few days ago in directly championing Mahsa and all those who fight for her because speaking out right now is more critical than ever.
“This week, after I watched all of these and heard about Mahsa, one morning I decided to post this video and dedicate it not only to her but also to all the women who are fighting for their rights and protesting against this very strict and violent approach in Iran right now,” he told me.
“To support their movement and just to say ‘We are here and we are with you.’”
Iranians say this time it feels different. Maybe because so many people are giving up their lives or going to prison in spite of the brutality of the regime. It is still worth it to them to speak out.
There have been many, many protests before in her home country, says Melian who only left Iran a year ago. “None of them were like this,” she says. “I can feel it in my bones.”
She points to seven qualities of the current uprising:
“It is more widespread, practically in every city, even smaller ones are protesting.”
“It is not ignited by economic reasons. The brutal murder of Mahsa was the last straw.”
“People are angrier than ever.”
“The world is finally hearing us. Anonymous hackers are helping. People are talking. Hashtags are being trended.”
“Because of President Ebrahim Raisi’s recent speech and the nuclear deal, Islamic Republic is being watched closely by the world.”
“Thanks to social media, people’s actions and slogans have matured.”
“Even the most religious know how vital it is to have a secular government.”
There is also the fact that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei canceled appearances a week ago after falling ill, leading many to speculate about his health and vulnerability, and there is more and more pushback against the regime, including from Christiane Amanpour who when she was told would need to wear a hijab 40 minutes after her interview with President Raisi was scheduled to start. Amanpour said she could not accommodate the “unprecedented and unexpected condition.”
And now, the scope and power of the protests unfolding before us is unfathomable.
“This is a 40-year war between the Islamic Republic and women,” Farzad Seifikaran, a journalist and editor at RadioZamaneh tells me to put the current uprising in perspective. “The concept of hijab in Iran is not only covering the body and wearing a scarf, but also it means controlling the woman’s body and eliminating them in various social and political arenas. The government of Iran wants women to be only at home and to control them with childbearing and housework because it considers women to be only tools in the service of men. In all these years, we have witnessed open violence against women. They were imprisoned, whipped and even killed under the pretext of hijab. Mahsa Amini is just one of countless Iranian women victims of the compulsory hijab policy.”
And she’s the one who may go down in history as giving her life so that others could be free.
Consider just a few months ago the newly published 119-page document that detailed as Iran Wire put it the “full, unhinged scope of Iran’s new hijab policy” with the plan to enforce the “veiling of women more strictly and with a greater degree of violence.”
Iran’s violence against its own people has in turn created something that is its most dangerous enemy: People uprising who are fearless.
“I’ve never seen Iranians inside and outside Iran this united and courageous,” says Rana, who lived in Iran for 30 years and moved to live and work in Australia in 2012. “I’ve been in all the previous demonstrations. We will win this or get killed. There is no middle way.”
The journalist Seifikaran continues: “The Islamic Republic’s regime killing the protestors wants to prove that it did not kill Mahsa Amini. In these days, like ‘Bloody November 2019 protests’ we have witnessed the suppression and killing of protestors who protested peacefully, and the world is observing these scenes and realizing that Iranian women have endured oppression all these years. The courage of Iranian women is commendable. They will succeed.”
Says Sara, an Iranian computer engineer who now lives in Montreal: “We want to get our country back from mullahs and return to its path that was going before 1979.”
People are fighting and inspired by Mahsa Amini but it is now so much bigger than her.
“The anger has been collecting for all the rights we missed in these 43 years,” Sara says. “They think homosexuals should be killed. They think women should only show their face, and they don’t believe in many human rights. If that’s not scary, what’s scary?”
Another Iranian woman named Jasmin told me: “We are seeing the brave young women who are not like women of the past. They did not want any of this. They feel like they have nothing to lose.”
Indeed, the death count remains unclear right now but is being approximated at between 9 and 31. The videos are extraordinary.
“When you see them throwing their hijab in the fire and dancing around, know that dancing for women is illegal so this is not just a protest like it would be for American women. This is an act of defiance for freedom that many are willing to die for,” Jasmin says. “You cannot kill the world’s daughter and expect there to be no consequences. Not just Iranians but anyone who cares about women and freedom is rising up right now. People need to keep rising up.”
Especially in the face of Iran’s disgusting punishment to its journalist whistleblowers.
“That’s what they always do,” Sara says of the arrest of Niloofar Hamedi. “They never punish the regime criminals but always arrest the whistleblowers.”
“In a normal country she would win a journalism award,” Rana says.
“It’s insane,” Melian concludes. “The more insane thing is that it’s normal around here.”
Top 3 Rabbitholed Takeaways:
#1 There are many ways that you can help support Iranians right now in their struggle.
Consider Nazanin Nour’s straightforward message of how to take action.
And here’s how to reach your local representative along with a sample script.
#2 You can also support the people of Iran through helping them subvert the brutal tech censorship they are facing.
#3 When you watch the men and women in the streets in Iran speaking out against oppression, please remember the rights that you do have.
If you can’t believe what you are seeing, then listen to what Iranians who are being censored in the most brutal ways imaginable are saying, praying it doesn’t fall on purposefully deaf ears and blind eyes and closed hearts.
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“They want freedom and democracy,” Mohammadreza Jalaeipour told Foreign Policy of the protesters in the streets who are not letting the threat of death keep them from taking to the streets. “They are fearless, direct—and brave.”
The activist who said that quote above? He has now been arrested, too.
Rabbitholed is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.