Iran Protesters Circumvent Internet Disruptions
by Benoit Faucon  /  Oct. 2, 2022

“Protesters in Iran are finding new ways to challenge the Islamic Republic after the government imposed sweeping disruptions to the internet that have affected the movement’s ability to use social media to spread its message. In places such as Tehran and Ahvaz in Southwestern Iran, demonstrators are passing out paper leaflets with details of planned protests and antigovernment statements, according to social-media footage. Others are spraying graffiti on the walls, with slogans like “Woman, life, freedom,” which is one of the trademark chants of the demonstrators.

Some activists are trying to skirt internet disruptions that started almost two weeks ago by using secure connections, such as virtual-private networks, say residents in Tehran. These people say they are turning to Farsi-speaking satellite broadcasts such as London-based Iran International, which publishes footage of the protests and provides updates on planned demonstrations. Protests broke out in Western Iran on Sept. 17, the day after 22-year old Mahsa Amini died in police custody for allegedly violating the country’s strict Islamic dress code.

The movement has relied heavily on social media to organize and challenge the regime’s theocratic rules. Demonstrations against the regime have spread from beyond Tehran and Kurdistan to border provinces, where there are large minorities who are unhappy with the government’s repressive policies. Protests continued Sunday in Tehran and in Western Iran, home to the country’s Kurdish minority. Students in universities around the country have joined the protests. At least 111 students were partly on strike on Sunday, according to the Free Union of Iranian Workers, the main umbrella organization of independent trade unions.

At Tehran’s Islamic Azad University, authorities responded to protests Saturday by firing bullets into the air to disperse the students. The protests continued again Sunday but there was no police presence, said a local witness. At least 92 people have been killed since the Iranian government cracked down on the protests, the nongovernmental organization Iran Human Rights Group said Sunday. The government has so far acknowledged 41 deaths. Thousands protested Saturday in Los Angeles and Toronto, Canada, both home to large Iranian communities, in solidarity with the antiveil movement in the Islamic republic.

Demonstrations have also taken place in New Zealand, Seoul, Paris, London and elsewhere. Some protesters pulled down street signs at two central locations in Tehran on Saturday, according to footage authenticated by Storyful, which is owned by News Corp., parent company of The Wall Street Journal. The signs said “revolution” and “Islamic Republic” in Farsi, referring to the 1979 revolution that led to the creation of the current regime. Authorities have tried to quell the protests by using closed-circuit TV to track down protesters, according to footage on state TV.

Plainclothes police officers have also infiltrated protests, according to footage on social media and a witness. When one local resident approached a protest Saturday in Tehran, one man who looked like a student in blue jeans and T-shirt approached him, identified himself as a security officer and asked to see his smart phone for footage of the demonstration. “I didn’t have anything in my phone,” said the resident. “Otherwise I would have lost my life.” Some officials have shown conciliatory moves including pledges to reform the so-called morality police who arrested Ms. Amini before she died. Still, the regime has so far said it would maintain the country’s strict dress code.

A closed parliament session on Sunday with the country’s police chief addressed ways to respond to the movement, state media said. Many lawmakers, most of them hardliners vetted by the regime, chanted ”death to the seditious,” as they clenched their fists, according to semiofficial news agency ISNA. “The blood in our veins is a gift to our leader,” they said, a reference to the country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Still, in private, some officials have shown understanding for the protesters’ grievances over Ms. Amini’s death. “But the government is stuck,” said an Iranian official. “It has made the veil a foundation of the system so it can’t backtrack.”

Iran Protesters Seek End of an Islamic Republic Pillar—the Morality Police
by Benoit Faucon & Michael Amon

“The protests that have erupted across Iran in the past two weeks are rooted in anger at the country’s morality police, an unpopular vestige of the 1979 revolution that represents a weak point for the government, according to protesters and human-rights advocates. The death of Mahsa Amini, 22, on Sept. 16, while in the custody of the morality police has touched a nerve among many Iranian families, who have had their own humiliating experiences with officers tasked with enforcing the country’s strict Islamic codes for clothing and behavior.

Among those protesting are conservative women and men, joining throngs of young secular people who say the enforcement of rules around hijab, or headscarves, for women is often capricious. Iran requires women to dress modestly, to wear no heavy makeup and, above all, to don a hijab, or headscarf. They are forbidden from riding bicycles and motorcycles, among other acts. Such rules are often customary though not mandatory in many Muslim countries. Advocates of the rules have called them Iran’s “last stand” on strict Islamic morality, with polls showing that a growing majority of the country is secular and opposed to the mandatory hijab.

Large swaths of the country are fervent adherents to a conservative strain of Shiite Islam, and some men independently enforce the hijab laws on the streets. Even clerics seen as moderates support the hijab laws. President Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric elected last year, has made enforcing the hijab laws a priority. In August, his government unveiled stricter hijab laws, and U.S. officials and human-rights organization that monitor Iran said they saw an uptick in arrests this summer of women for violating the new rules.

Even before the most recent protests, the rules had driven unrest and caused some women to flee the country. Shima Babaei was 14 years old when she walked out of a movie theater in central Tehran, and a vice-squad officer grabbed her by the hand and tried to shove her into a car. Ms. Babaei said her father struggled with the officer, who said she wasn’t properly covered up, as all women and girls in Iran must do from puberty. A crowd gathered, she said.

Outnumbered, the officers let her go. “I never forgot that memory,” said Ms. Babaei, now 28, who lives in Belgium after leaving Iran following an arrest in 2018 over protests against the mandatory hijab. Under Iran’s laws, a woman not wearing the hijab can be jailed for 10 days to two months, fined and receive lashes. “Growing up in Iran, it’s impossible to know someone, a young woman who has not been arrested because of allegedly wearing her hijab improperly,” said Yeganeh Rezaian, an Iranian journalist and researcher with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In a leaderless, incremental push over the past decade, women have pushed back, with the help of male relatives and supporters. In recent months, it had become common in Tehran to see women on motorcycles wearing tight jeans and no headscarf. The anger of women is palpable in the most recent demonstrations. They are cutting their hair on the streets, burning their headscarves and confronting authorities.

“Woman! Life! Freedom!” is a familiar chant in protests. The authorities have responded fiercely to the protests, which the government has called riots, and in defense of the hijab laws. More than 40 protesters have been killed, more than 500 injured and more than 1,000 arrested in a sweeping crackdown that has also shut down the Internet for much of the country.

Tehran has also responded with repeated bombardment of Kurdish areas in northern Iraq after publicly blaming Iranian Kurdish separatist groups based in Iraq for fomenting unrest in Iran. On Wednesday, the strikes resumed with more intensity as Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps attacked Iranian Kurdish camps and bases near Erbil and other northern Iraqi cities, using armed drones and dozens of missiles. The attacks killed nine people, including one civilian, and left more than 30 more wounded, according to a statement by Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government.

In Washington, the White House condemned the attack. “Iran cannot deflect blame from its internal problems and the legitimate grievances of its population with attacks across its borders,” Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor, said in a statement. Ms. Amini, a Kurdish visitor to Tehran, was arrested while visiting the capital with her family, allegedly for inappropriate clothing. In interviews with Persian media, her mother and father have said she was dressed properly under Iran’s hijab laws.

Saeid Dehghan, an Iranian human-rights lawyer has represented women arrested by the morality police, said Iranian Islamic law on the hijab is vague, using terms like “forbidden acts” and “shariah veil” that “give wide discretion to police officers to be abusive to the public.” The importance of the laws is illustrated by their history of enforcement.

They were once the province of the country’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the sprawling paramilitary group that is tasked with defending the system and stamping out a counter-revolution. Iranians in their 40s and 50s recall running and hiding from the IRGC street patrols, which ensured women wore headscarves and also long, loose-fitting robes. “We grew up with horrible experiences,” said one Iranian woman, a 52-year-old doctor who supports the protests. “We don’t want to live like this. We don’t want forced hijab.”

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president, tightened the hijab laws and enforcement during his tenure from 2005 to 2013, creating the modern version of the morality police, and empowering them. Their white vans became a familiar and feared site throughout the country. The group often conducts checkpoints in crowded areas and outside Tehran Metro stations and takes women back to the Vozara detention center, a drab, two-story building that faces a pine-tree-lined park frequented by local families and tourists.

There, according to women interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, officers often strip search female detainees and put them in cells. In the same building are men rounded up for violating vice laws against drinking and prostitution. A trip to Vozara became a mark of shame for a woman’s family. “The mental and emotional torture that these girls constantly struggle with in the detention center is usually overlooked. Sometimes it even leads to suicide,” said Mr. Dehghan.

Protests against the hijab laws became more forceful during the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, who was viewed as moderate within Iran and had spoken against aggressive morality police tactics. Women staged protests in which they took off their veils and burned them. Among them was Azam Jangravi, who climbed onto an electricity transformer box and removed her veil as part of what became known as the Girls of Enghelab Avenue protests.

She said police threw her down and arrested her, taking her to Vozara, where she was kept in solitary confinement for four days. She said a judge interrogating her called her a prostitute, took away her driving privileges and threatened to remove her daughter from her custody. Ms. Jangravi decided to flee to Turkey with her eight-year-old daughter in 2018, later resettling to Canada. “I was scared, I was broken,” she said.

In Tehran, protesters say they want more than the end of the hijab laws. They have chanted for the death of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself. “The problem is the system,” said one woman who has been picked up by the morality police, a 45-year-old housewife. “The whole system should shut down.”



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