Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman who fell into a coma after being arrested by Tehran’s morality patrol, died in hospital on Friday September 16. The horrific incident has sparked mass protests across Iran that showed no signs of abating 10 nights later.
But the catastrophic injuries this innocent young woman suffered at the hands of state agents, due to nothing more than a policy of misogyny and control, have also drawn the sympathy and anger of women in other countries. These include Afghan women, to whom her case is all too familiar.
Afghan women's rights activists have seen all their worst predictions come true since the Taliban came back to power last year. In that country, the Ministry for Women’s Affairs has been renamed the Ministry of Enjoining Good and Prohibiting Vice, and like other branches of government is run by fanatics.
Employees of the ministry are deployed to the streets just like Iran’s so-called “morality police” and ask women to dress according to their norms. Afghan women had enjoyed relative freedom for the previous two decades, and are now more aware of their rights than before. They are also now standing by their sisters in Iran.
Madineh Darvazi is one of them. She joined protests after Kabul fell to the Taliban last summer and was shot at and arrested by the occupiers, who forced her to give a scripted “confession” – following the example set by the Islamic Republic of Iran – and released her only after obtaining a written guarantee.
After the death of Mahsa Amin, she published a video on her Facebook account in which she declared: "Dear Mahsa, today your name is a symbol for freedom and struggle. Today the people of Iran have bravely occupied the streets for your blood. Other people in every corner of the world who are under the rule of cruel and expropriating regimes will take up and raise the flag of freedom. We are with you, from Tehran to Kabul."
Arefeh Khatami, a human rights activist and fellow protester against the Taliban, echoed these sentiments in a video she posted online. “We, the women of Afghanistan, praise you and support your extraordinary struggle and resistance,” she said. “You are a step away from victory. Don't give up. Destroy the palaces of oppression and tyranny. All those who believe in the justice of human rights and freedoms are with you."
The Afghan journalist Marzieh Farhad Ebrahimi also reacted to the killing of Mahsa Amini. She published a song by Aryana Sayeed, one of Afghanistan’s most famous singers, in which part of the lyrics state: “The breeze is blowing, keep your hair waving… To keep your faith you must be stoned. Get up, scream, shout, raise your hands up for your rights.”
Farhanaz Fortun, another Afghan journalist, published a photo of protesting women in Iran on Facebook and wrote: "This history is the glorious history of women's revolution in Afghanistan and Iran. Our identity is our femininity. Our land is wherever a woman stands with a firm fist raised against oppression."
Solidarity with the family of Mahsa Amini and with demonstrators on the streets of Iran is at unprecedented levels in Afghanistan. Many Afghans have changed their profile pictures online to images of Mahsa. At probably no other time have so many citizens of two countries that speak practically the same language been so fervently in accord with each other.
The MP Nahid Farid has described Iranian citizens’ protests as a fight to get out of “captivity”. He wrote on Twitter: “Freedom is in the essence of humanity. The spontaneous uprising of the Iranian people to free themselves from captivity is inspiring and thrilling. Nations do not always remain under the curtain of false policies. A spark like Mahsa_Amini’s falling to the ground may be enough for men and women to raise a cry for freedom, and to stir the soul of every human being who wants justice."
Famous Afghan cartoonist Atiq Shahid produced an image of Mahsa’s face and head on the body of a dove, breaking the instruments of state violence. He told IranWire: “At present the conditions of Afghan and Iranian women are almost the same, though sadly the burden is greatest on Afghan women. It will be difficult to fight with empty hands. The point of commonality between Tehran and the Taliban is their abuse of religion to suppress the women of both countries.”
In Afghanistan, women and girls have been banned from work and education for more than a year now. In the past two weeks some woman have expressed solidarity with protesting women in Iran by removing their headscarves in videos posted online, despite the risk this carries for them.
One women did so with her face darkened in order to protect her identity. “My Iranian sister,” she said, “your sin and mine is that when men see our hair, they are provoked. You were sentenced to death in Tehran by the Morality Police, and I am sentenced to death in Kabul by the Taliban’s Ministry. No to mandatory hijab. No to misogynist Islamic governments.”
Ali Saghi, an Afghan singer, has dedicated a cover he recorded – of the Iranian singer Googoosh’s Lalaei Kon – to Mahsa Amini at a concert in Sweden on September 18. In the accompanying post on Facebook, he wrote: “Dedicated to the girl whose life was sacrificed for a single strand of her hair.
“This sadness is familiar to us. Every day these past forty years we have cried in the bitter hours of hearing the news. Mahsa, Farkhunda, Tabassum and Rakhshaneh are all victims of the “religious” thoughts of a few people who believe they have been sent by God to take others to heaven by force. I’m sick of this heaven. To reach it, one has to become a vampire.”
This article was written by a citizen journalist in Iran under a pseudonym.