The USC Persian Academic and Cultural Student Association organized two on-campus vigils on September 21 and 23 in memory of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died in police custody.
Amini died in a Tehran hospital on September 16, three days after morality police arrested her for violating Iran’s hijab law. Since September 23, her death has sparked large-scale protests across the country in at least 40 cities demanding an end to conservative dress and hijab laws.
According to NPR News, police arrested Amini, originally from Kurdistan province, in her brother’s car while visiting Tehran to see family members and sent her to a detention center to receive training on hijab laws before she was taken to a hospital where she died of a heart attack, according to the Iranian authorities.
However, Amini’s family denied the allegation and, supported by eyewitnesses, stated that the police beat Amini after her arrest. Reports indicate that Amini’s death was caused by a fractured skull resulting from severe blows to her head, according to the Associated Press.
Maideh Masiha Orangi, a student majoring in philosophy, politics and law, learned the news of Amini’s death after returning from a religious trip to Iraq.
“It was really strange and disturbing to see the same religion I felt so close to being misrepresented and abused in enforcing hijab and leading to someone’s death,” Orangi said.
Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a result of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iran’s “Hijab and Chastity Law” has required all women and girls over the age of nine to wear a headscarf in public.
“I don’t think it’s fair of you to be able to say that someone is wearing the hijab wrong or wearing it wrong if they themselves have not chosen to do so… I think women should have the choice to wear the hijab and also the holiness.” preserving the hijab because when it is enforced, its value, its importance decreases,” said Orangi.
Negar, another Iranian student who does not want to give her full name, worries about political retaliation from the Iranian government. She said she was “shocked, angry and scared” after hearing the news.
“I put myself in the shoes of Mahsa and all the people who are being killed in Iran right now, and I believe this could have happened to any of us, not just Mahsa,” Negar said.
USC students showed their sympathy by bringing flowers that PACSA says symbolize Amini’s life and memory in homage to the vigils. Orangi attended both and appreciated the opportunity to network with other students.
“Many of us feel guilty that we see what has happened to our country and people online, but we are privileged to be in the United States and not experience that,” Orangi said. “I think it’s really important that we can have these vigils in these communities, and a lot of us tend to connect with others … I think.” [to] allay some of the guilt we feel for not being able to help our country that much directly.”
Negar also called for support from non-Iranian students at USC.
“The main purpose of [vigil nights] is that they want more support from non-Iranians and that other students remain in solidarity with us, [to] informing others about the current situation in Iran,” Negar said.
Protests against Iran’s religious dictatorship in response to Amini’s death continue. At least 133 protesters, including children, have been killed since October 2, according to Iran Human Rights, a human rights nonprofit in Norway.
Internet services in Tehran and other parts of the country were partially curtailed by NetBlocks, a surveillance organization that oversees the governance of the Internet, on September 16, when the protest first erupted. Instagram and WhatsApp were also restricted nationwide on September 21, followed by massive shutdowns of national mobile networks.
“In the last five years, I would say, although protest started with reasons, it very quickly took on a broader anti-government tone, and this was no exception,” said Ciruce Movahedi-Lankarani, professor of Middle Eastern studies at Dornsife College of Letters , Arts and Sciences. “What’s different this time is the way women have been at the forefront of the movement.”
Movahedi-Lankarani also acknowledged that shutting down the internet is one way the Iranian authorities are using it to prevent international intervention.
“The power structure of the government, to my mind, doesn’t really care what human rights organizations say. So one of the tools that people are using is to turn off the internet,” Movahedi-Lankarani said.
Although the nationwide protests continue, Movahedi-Lankarani argued that it would not bring any significant change to Iran’s political system.
“Essentially, I don’t think we’re likely to see any sweeping change… more likely we might see some sort of quiet retreat from an established enforcement of the sort of cultural, social, law or issue,” Movahedi-Lankarani said.