Leyla – whatever she wants to call her – comes out to meet her on a narrow street in the center of Tehran with her hair tied up in a ponytail, without the veil that, like many other women in Iran, she has completely removed. The appointment is at a close friend's house to avoid problems. She is one of the 20,000 people sent to prison by the authorities when, moved by the indignation sparked by the death – at the hands of the morality police – of Jina Mahsa Amini a year ago today, they took to the streets to protest.
“They called me three weeks ago to make me sign a new commitment that I will not protest and I will talk about them on social networks,” he says. Other women and men who have been imprisoned have reported warning calls in the weeks leading up to the anniversary and the rise of the Women, Life, Freedom movement, which captured Iranian women's long struggle for their rights, including deciding what to do with her body. Thousands of women took off their veils, many decided to burn them and many others cut their hair as a sign of protest.
In a statement published yesterday, the Human Right Watch organization stated that "Iranian authorities have intensified their repression against dissent and peaceful expression through intimidation, arrests, proceedings and trials...". This includes arrests of relatives of people who died during the protests; The objective is to prevent public ceremonies from being held to remember their loved ones in the first year of their death.
The same happens with the family of Jina Mahsa Amini, who has lived under pressure since the young woman fell into a coma and died after being arrested for wearing her hijab incorrectly. Journalist Nilufar Hamedi, who followed Jina's tragedy in the hospital, and Elaheh Mohamadi, who covered her funeral in Saqez, remain in prison.
Human rights organizations count around 500 deaths during the protests, including 67 members of the law enforcement forces and around 70 children and adolescents.
From northeastern Iran, an activist who identifies himself as Mehdi assures that “the system is creating fear so that no one dares to take to the streets.”
Yesterday, various non-governmental organizations reported that several cities in Kurdistan, including Jina's original city of Saqez, are militarized. In Tehran and other large cities in the country there is a police presence in key points.
There have been calls for mobilization on social networks, but in Tehran there was calm yesterday. Many people have gone on a trip taking advantage of a three-day long holiday weekend, including today. Fiona – not her real name either –, a 24-year-old engineer, says that many of her friends say that protesting is risking your life. “But I know that if we are together, we can protect ourselves,” she explained.
As for Leyla and the commitment they required her to sign, she claims to have been surprised by the document they presented to her. “Last year, before they released me, they made me sign a similar document, but the interesting thing about this new one is that it includes many more restrictions than the other one,” says this woman who is close to 40 years old and asks not to give further details. about life.
The restrictions, beyond the protests, are focused on the use of the veil that the authorities are trying to reimpose. Although they managed to silence the mobilizations since the winter, they have not had the same result with women's clothing. A large number of women of all ages and economic sectors remain uncovered, as could be seen this week in Tehran's Grand Bazaar, known for being one of the most traditional areas of the city.
Mona, a hospitality businesswoman, says that once the protests began, it took her days to take off her veil. “I was very worried about keeping my company, but when I saw the violence, when I saw that they were directly attacking the eyes of the young people who were on the street, I took it away.”
Her story is similar to that of many women who were inspired by the determination of other women, especially young women, who lost their fear of confronting security forces, including paramilitary forces.
Mona points out that the majority of women who enter her cafe in central Tehran do not wear veils even though the authorities threaten to close it. “It is not my responsibility,” she says, and points out that for the authorities the current obsession is to reimpose the use of the veil while the economy is getting worse, as is insecurity in the cities.
“There are so many things to worry about, but they – the system – only think about pleasing their base and their survival,” he says. Many cafes, restaurants and public establishments have been closed time and time again as punishment for allowing unveiled women to enter.
They have also put pressure on government establishments such as offices, airports, banks, which are prohibited from serving unveiled women.
After having withdrawn the morale police after Mahsa's death, the authorities sent these patrols back to the streets last July. They generally do not dare to stop them, as before. Sometimes they warn them that they have to cover themselves or take photos where their faces are recorded.
Lawyer Shima Ghooshe assures that the strategy has changed and that now the legal pressure on women is greater. Before they signed a paper and went home, now their files are sent to the courts.
“In different cities there are different verdicts. Some have to pay fines and additional sentences have also been given, such as sending them to psychiatrists or to carry out cultural activities that, according to them, can make them reconsider,” he explains.
Shima also draws attention to the bill being studied in Parliament dedicated to “family, chastity and jihab” and which increases punishments for women who do not observe dress laws. A group of experts convened by the UN assures that this bill could be a form of “gender apartheid.”
“I don't think we're going to go back. There is more awareness about women and many have the support of their families,” concludes the lawyer. Like many, she believes that the sad death of Jina Mahsa Amini changed Iran. And, above all, she gave even more courage to women to continue their fight.