Remembering Mahsa Amini: one year later
Pain and retribution fuel Iranian-Montrealers in support of their community back home
On the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini's death, thousands of protesters gathered at the McGill University Roddick Gates and rallied to the George-Étienne Cartier Monument.
Demonstrators stood in three lines in front of the large crowd holding nooses, standing in cages, wearing bloody shirts and gas masks—all depicting the lives of those who remain in Iran under the current regime. Chants in English, French and Farsi brought the large crowd together as they marched for the Iranian people.
On Sept. 16, 2022, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman living in Iran, died in a Tehran hospital after a three-day coma. Amini was arrested by the morality police for wearing her hijab too loosely. According to witnesses, she was beaten with a baton which led to her death. Amini's murder sparked uproar amongst an already outraged population.
Among the crowd in Montreal was Bijan Jalali, a member of Collectif Femme, Vie, Liberté (Women, Life, Freedom) Montreal. “Woman, Life, Freedom started in Iran. Today is the anniversary of that,” he said. “All over the world, we are doing demonstrations for the first anniversary of that movement.”
The chant “Woman, Life, Freedom” was inspired by Amini’s death as well as the oppressive experiences Iranian women go through on a regular basis. Some of Iran’s laws include mandatory veiling, prohibition from work and/or travel without a husband or father’s permission and inequality towards women in the legal system more broadly.
Her passing sparked widespread protests across Iran and the rest of the world. Across the country, repression against protesters has been deadly. Police forces were seen shooting unarmed people and kidnapping activists; dozens of them were killed or seen fleeing for their lives.
One year later, the Iranian population’s demands surrounding women’s rights have not been met. The movement’s main demand is the secularization of Iran’s authoritarian theocratic regime, which has ruled the country since 1979.
Authorities used a variety of brutal and inhumane tactics to cease any widespread opposition such as violently dispersing protesters, murders, arrests and even mass shutdowns of the internet. In response, on Sept. 16, 2023, almost every major city in the world rallied in support of the movement.
The death of Mahsa Amini sparked great anger in the citizens of all of Iran. Even those not in attendance have made their voices heard. “I think everyone was waiting for that moment. It’s like a house with a gas leak, and you just need a spark,” said Sara, an Iranian who moved to Montreal two years ago, and wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons. “I think Mahsa was that spark.”
Sara explained that Iranians did not want to believe that their government could be this violent. According to her, many people would pretend the situation wasn’t as bad as it seemed. They would just accept, be patient and tolerate. “I know that I cannot wear anything that I want. I know that I cannot use a bicycle. We cannot travel without our father or husband's permission. If our husband dies, we cannot get custody of our child,”
Hesan, who wishes to remain anonymous, was born in the US and now lives in Montreal. His parents immigrated from Iran in the late 80s due to the search for a better quality of life. He agreed with Sara. “Since the revolution in 1979, women have been relegated to a second-class citizen status. In the eyes of the law, they are considered to be of lesser value than men,” he said.
The government’s treatment of citizens also affected the Iranian community in Montreal. “It was really hard in the first few months. Contacting our family while they were in the middle of everything, they [could have gotten] killed,” Sara added. “The internet was cut off and we didn’t have access to them. It was eating me alive that I wasn’t in Iran. I was [virtually] on the streets [of Iran] through my phone. I was checking the news every second. I encouraged others to be active, but I wasn’t there, that’s the only thing that I was missing.”
Sina Salamannia, a demonstrator present at the protest and first-year McGill student who came to Canada a year and a half ago “I’m here to support the anniversary of the uprising. My life was affected directly and indirectly by it.” Salamannia explained he left Iran because of the government, but his family remains.
“I haven't seen them ever since I left. It was always a fear of, ‘Am I going to get out of this country?’ ‘Can I board the plane?’ It was a terrible moment,” Salamannia said about leaving Iran. “I'm worried about all of my family and all of my friends, but I have hope.”
The Montreal demonstration drew over 1,000 participants. Many other cities around the world organized rallies in Mahsa Amini's honour. Despite the continued fight, there was a pervasive feeling of optimism that change is on the way.
This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 2, published September 19, 2023.