Ten days before the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini in police custody, the rape of a 15-year-old girl named Maho by a police officer in Sistan and Baluchistan shook the south-eastern province.
News of the rape sparked demonstrations across the province that have lasted until this day, coinciding with the nationwide protest movement triggered by Amini’s death in Tehran.
Each Friday, angry demonstrators take to the streets across Sistan and Baluchistan to denounce discrimination of the Sunni Baluch minority but also to call for fundamental changes in the country.
These protests have shed light on the presence and resilience of Baluch women, who have defied security and cultural challenges to raise their voices and emerge into the public eye for the first time.
One of these courageous women, 24-year-old Faezeh Brahoui, spent almost 50 days in custody for her involvement in street rallies in the provincial capital, Zahedan. After her release from prison, she made the difficult decision to leave Iran and become an asylum seeker and build a new life elsewhere.
“Remaining Passive Was no Longer an Option”
Brahoui said she “diligently” shared protest-related posts on her Instagram page as anti-government demonstrations were spreading across Iran following Amini’s death. And on September 21, she joined the street protests for the first time.
"When news confirming the assault on Maho emerged, the word rapidly spread about a gathering on Zahedan University Street — a call to action that I also echoed,” she said. “At that point, I realized that remaining passive was no longer an option. I made the resolute decision to actively participate in the protests."
Brahoui recalled that discussing violence against women was often met with silence due to the deep-seated societal taboo surrounding the topic.
"[The rape] was a difficult subject to broach, and some even dismissed it as mere rumor until [cleric] Movlana Naqshbandi confirmed it, thrusting everyone into a state of nervousness and distress,” the young woman said. "I felt a strong urge to break my silence and make my protest public."
On the first night of the protests on September 21, "there was a significant turnout, including many women protesters,’” Brahoui said, adding that her favorite slogan was “Freedom is our leader.”
"However, Zahedan University Street soon became flooded with officers, police cars and plainclothes forces who resorted to firing upon the protesters," according to Brahoui, who said the brutal crackdown caused a noticeable decline in the number of women participating in protests the following night.
"The overwhelming presence of security personnel on all the streets forced us to navigate through side streets. We resorted to burning scarves and shawls in protest. However, as the situation calmed down, I found myself encircled by Basij forces in civilian clothing. They forced me into a private car and whisked me away to the detention center."
“Girls as Young as 15 or 16 Were among Us”
Brahoui spent a total of nearly 50 days in the detention center and in Zahedan’s prison.
"From the very first night of my detention, after a lengthy interrogation, they accused me of being a key protest figure, which led to my transfer to prison,” she said. "While some [protesters] were released on bail, my family's tireless efforts to secure my release remained unsuccessful.”
“Some had been transferred from other cities like Chabahar. The number of detainees increased to the point where we were segregated from other prisoners and confined to a separate room. Shockingly, girls as young as 15 or 16 were among us. In certain cases, mothers and daughters were arrested together and subsequently received prison sentences."
In the wake of the widespread protests and subsequent mass arrests of activists, the Islamic Republic increasingly held online trials for demonstrators.
Brahoui’s case was handled by such a court. She faced charges including "participating in riots and endangering national security," "inciting riots" and "insulting the leadership."
"During the third court session…I was informed, to my surprise, that my prison sentence was reduced to three years and six months following a pardon by the [supreme] leader.”
"All I could offer in response was silence. Even when given the opportunity to present my final defense, I chose to remain silent. However, I later voiced my protest against this verdict, ultimately securing my release on bail pending the appeal court hearing."
This courageous young Baluch woman was released from prison on November 16.