Iranian Students Hold Vigil and Protest for the Killing of Iranian Woman and Compulsory Hijab Laws 

On Monday, Sept. 26 the undergraduate organization Persian American Student Association (PASA) and the graduate community Iranian Student Association (ISTA) respectively held a vigil and a solidarity gathering in mourning of Mahsa Amini. 

Amini was a 22-year-old woman who was announced dead after morality police — a unit dedicated to enforcing strict dress codes — took her to a “re-education center” because she appeared to not be wearing her hijab properly in accordance with national hijab laws.

The Monday night vigil, organized by PASA, took place in front of Geisel Library. Approximately 100 students were present at the event, where they spread informational flyers and held candles with solemn music. The number of students, who either heard from the Persian community or stopped by at the event, was “way more than we expected,” an anonymous PASA member and Roger Revelle College senior Matt said.* 

According to Matt, previously only 60 to 70 people attended a typical event, and “it’s fantastic to see so many people stop by and ask what happened.” Matt described the vigil as a “peaceful protest.” 

“There is no point [for] us to become violent over here. If we become violent, we just show negative views about Persians over here. The whole point is to spread the news as much as possible. We just want to have government and local representatives to stand with Iran — to have much support as possible,” Matt explained.

He also told The UCSD Guardian that the students that helped organize the vigil mostly have been to or lived in Iran. 

“The fact we live in some areas where freedom is all around us, and we know in another world we used to not have those, motivates us to let people know that people in another world of the same age may not have such freedom as they do,” he said.

Two days later, ISTA held a gathering at Graffiti Art Park by the Old Student Center. Around 30 students gathered around the pedestrian path, chanting slogans such as “Women, Life, Freedom” and “Stop the Violence, Stop the Hate.”

The event organizer, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a Jacobs School of Engineering Ph.D. candidate.* She told The Guardian that, aside from showing solidarity by having this gathering, ISTA and PASA are also actively collecting student signatures to send a statement to Chancellor Pradeep Khosla.

“Another fact enraging people is that those people [who work for the Iranian regime] force women to wear hijab, while their own daughters live outside Iran, in [the] U.K. or in Canada, where they don’t have to wear hijab.” Matt continued, “This is the double standard people see every day.”

Matt added that, different from the previous generation, the current Iranian generation is living in ‘the information era,’ where the Iranian government is less likely to hide or cover important social issues. Access to the internet motivated the new generation to fight for their basic human rights more enthusiastically and vigorously.

Tina, a Roger Revelle College fifth-year, told The Guardian that people in Iran usually need a VPN to access unfiltered content in social media such as WhatsApp and Instagram.* However, recently the Iranian government blocked the internet service nationwide due to the large-scale protests. Such conditions have made it difficult for Tina to communicate with her father, who must wake up early in the morning to even have a chance of connecting to the internet. Similar situations happened to her friend in Canada, who opted to have direct landline calls with her family in Iran, which is “really expensive” according to Tina.

“They realized how powerful social media gets,” Tina explained.  “The more people talk, the more enraged people get, and the more they are threatened. So they just blocked the internet access and social media access.

Third-year engineering graduate student Mahsa decided not to contact her family members at all.* 

“The internet connection is so limited. There is a fear of being overheard and surveillanced. The chance is low for [a] single individual. But you also don’t want risk. So a lot of time I just asked them how they’re doing and if they’re safe, but there is no real discussion about it,” she said.

Mahsa later introduced a video made by Iranian people, as she iterated, “I don’t know how normal life feels like — have you ever been to the street and [kissed] your beloved one? Have you ever been to the beach and felt the breeze on your skin and your hair? Have you gone to [a] concert and danced to the music you love? We cannot do that! This is the basic human right, and there is no need for explanation.”

“This is much bigger than just Mahsa Amini. Everyone [gets] up on the street and [expresses] all those sadness and rage they felt for decades,” Mahsa said.” The death of Mahsha Amini is more like ‘a symbol of the innocent’ and a symbol of how women ‘lack control of their own body.’

Tina also shared a poem she had discussed with her father prior to the interview about a peacock cutting off its feathers. Someone saw the peacock in the midst of the action and asked, “Why would you do that? Your feathers are so beautiful.” The peacock responded, “My feathers threatened my life. Because of this physical beauty, I’ve been imprisoned in the zoo. I want people to see me for who I am, not for my physical appearances. I’m not only my feathers. I’m more than that.”

“I think that symbolizes Iranian culture of cutting hair [as a protest].” Tina, after retelling the poem, continued, “If my hair is such a concern to you — if it’s so attractive that I have to cover all the time, then I don’t want it. I don’t want you to control how I present myself.”

Similar protests have occurred in other communities, including Irvine, Orange County, San Francisco, and Crown Point Park in San Diego this past Saturday.

Editor’s Note: Due to safety concerns for themselves and their families in Iran, the interviewed students were granted anonymity by request through the use of pseudonyms or omitted last names.

Correction: This article was revised at 12:08  p.m. on Oct. 5 to correct the spelling of Mahsa Amini’s name and better reflect the hardships Tina’s father faces to connect to the internet.

Photo by Millie Root for the UCSD Guardian.

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