Producer, Educator & Writer
It’s been nearly a month since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in the custody of Iranian morality police, sparking protests around the world — including here in the Bay Area.
Last week, events in Iran took a different turn as students protesting at one of Iran’s most prestigious universities, Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, were attacked. Several people were wounded and many more were arrested, according to The New York Times.
A statement condemning the attacks was signed by over 700 academics.
Nima Rahimi, a first-generation Iranian immigrant based in San Francisco, said that he and many others in the Iranian diaspora received direct reports from student protesters who were inside the university and surrounded by government forces. Professors and students were shot at with rubber bullets as well as live ammunition.‘Women! Life! Freedom!’: A Weekend of Bay Area Protests in Solidarity With Iran
“I wish the world could witness it,” said Persis Karim, speaking on the current moment in Iran. Karim is a San Francisco State University professor and director of the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies. She feels anguish and fear regarding what’s happening in Iran, as well as a sense of inspiration and pride for the people rising up.
Karim was in regular contact with her cousin, who lives in Iran, until just days ago. Her cousin said security forces were shooting rubber bullets at girls who were not wearing a hijab in the streets. Human Rights Watch documented many incidents of security forces unlawfully using excessive force against protesters in multiple cities across Iran.
Karim, the daughter of Iranian immigrants, said two other members of her family were imprisoned as young women in Iran because they were protesting the veil — over 40 years ago. Now, she says she feels the resonance of those earlier events.
On Sunday, around 2,000 Iranian Americans joined a host of local politicians outside San Francisco’s City Hall in support of the ongoing woman-led uprising in Iran.
“What is happening in Iran now is a lesson to the world of what happens when you let religious extremists take control,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener at the protest. “We have to demand our leaders and our media, that we shed a light on this and that the entire world rally with the women of Iran to put an end to this regime.”
City Attorney David Chiu spoke next and acknowledged the Iranian diaspora in California.
“Many of us who are not your federal electeds do not speak up when things happen outside our border, but this is not politics as usual,” said Chiu. “We are here because Mahsa Amini was our sister. She was our cousin. She was our daughter. And it could have happened to any one of the 40 million women who live in Iran.”
Nazy Amjadi has lived in the U.S. for eight years and still has family in Iran. She says she’s worried about them and calls frequently.’It’s a movement about liberty. It’s not about not wanting to wear the headscarf, but being able to have the choice of whether to wear the headscarf.’Nima Rahimi, first-generation Iranian immigrant
“All of us have a lot of anxiety and stress at the moment because we love our country no matter what,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a citizen here or another country. Iran is our country.”
Shahin Toutounchi has lived in the U.S. for 42 years and said misogyny is “the core root” of Iran’s regime and has produced the current movement.
“It is not accidental that the women have taken the lead against a misogynist regime,” he said. “And in doing that, they’re changing Iran, not just for women, but for all Iranians, men and women together.”
Many people in the crowd on Sunday said they wanted to keep in the limelight the popular resistance against clerical rule that’s ensued in the wake of Mahsa Amini’s death at the hands of morality police.
While not everyone in the diaspora agreed with the idea of more sanctions against Iran, several people were supportive of targeted, new U.S. restrictions on the morality police and Canada’s bans on Iran’s elite intelligence force and its business empire.
“None of us are experts on what the sanctions actually do,” said Roya Pourmand, a first-generation Iranian American living in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Do they hurt the average Iranian? Do they hurt the regime more? I think we all have the same end goal. And we want our elected officials and our government to speak up like Canada did.”
Rahimi organized Sunday’s protest and solidarity rally “Woman Life Freedom Solidarity Rally.”
“Brave young women in Iran were out there burning their headscarves, chanting, ‘Women! Life! Freedom!’ And cutting their hair as a symbolic demonstration of protest and mourning and have been putting their bodies in front of batons, rubber bullets, live ammunition,” said Rahimi.
Protests have spanned at least 80 cities in Iran and many other countries around the world. Notably, Rahimi said, there is a wide range of ages, ethnic groups and socioeconomic classes.
There is also growing sentiment in the Iranian diaspora that the government should be ousted, but Rahimi and Karim both say the future needs to be decided by the people of Iran.
“It’s a movement about liberty,” Rahimi said. “It’s not about not wanting to wear the headscarf, but being able to have the choice of whether to wear the headscarf.”
What’s next? Rahimi doesn’t think the protests will stop anytime soon. “The Iranian diaspora is organizing already for next weekend and the weekend after,” he said. “This time it’s different. It’s a turning point and there’s no going back.”
How might people in the Bay Area get involved and stand in solidarity with the people of Iran? Here are a few suggestions from those in the local Iranian American community:
Karim says experts who have lived in Iran should be asked to write opinion pieces and contribute meaningfully to local and national press.
“The silence is just painful,” she said of the lack of comprehensive media coverage. “This is part of the general frustration and anger that people feel … it’s painful for people to not see the media address the story.”
Rahimi echoed Karim, emphasizing the importance of sharing stories on social media. “Keep the stories alive,” he said.
Staying involved in protests and taking to the streets, the bridges and the candlelight vigils is an ongoing way to make your opinion known. Teach-ins, film screenings and other educational events serve as community meeting points to continue involvement and sharing of news and knowledge.
An Associated Press tally shows there have been at least 1,900 arrests connected to the protests. As of September 24, an Oslo, Norway-based group called Iran Human Rights estimates at least 154 people have been killed. Without a reliable government source of information and limited journalism allowed in the country, human rights organizations serve an important role of documentation.
Given the recent attacks at Sharif University, Karim emphasized the importance of bringing attention to students.
“It’s very difficult to get a visa to come here [to the U.S.]. Waive the admission fee,” suggested Karim. She’d also like to see individual universities work with Scholars at Risk.
She says universities should also fast-track applications for Iranians. “Why do we need to start thinking about this? This is the future,” she said. “They’re killing girls.”
Rahimi also said Iranian Americans and the Iranian diaspora around the globe have gone to their own universities to advocate for statements against violence by the Iranian government.
KQED’s Daphne Young contributed to this report.