What ignited the Iranian protests and is this the beginning of something bigger?

Iranian President Raisi accuses Canada of ‘double standards’ on human rights abuses during the UN General Assembly

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Protests have erupted across Iran in recent days after a 22-year-old woman died while being held by the morality police for violating the country’s strictly enforced Islamic dress code.

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The death of Mahsa Amini, who had been picked up by Iran’s morality police for her allegedly loose headscarf, or hijab, has triggered daring displays of defiance in the face of beatings and possible arrest.

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday morning accusing the West of “double standards” on human rights. Raisi pointed a finger at Canada saying the nation’s treatment of Indigenous people, “whose bodies of hundreds of children were discovered in mass graves in a school,” should not be overlooked.

“Until we have these double standards where attention is solely focused on one side and not all equally, we will not have true justice and fairness,” Raisi said.

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Although the Indian Residential School System still stands as one of Canada’s greatest wrongs, there were no “mass graves,” evidence of murder or graves deliberately hidden.

Many Iranians, particularly the young, have come to see Amini’s death as part of the Islamic Republic’s heavy-handed policing of dissent and the morality police’s increasingly violent treatment of young women.

The fatal incident prompted the beginning of a wider demand for regime change.

Here’s a look at what sparked the protests and where they might lead.

WHAT CAUSED THE PROTESTS?

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Iran’s morality police arrested Amini on Sept. 13 in Tehran, where she was visiting from her hometown in the country’s western Kurdish region. She collapsed at a police station and died three days later.

Police detained her over wearing her hijab too loosely. Iran requires women to wear the headscarf in a way that completely covers their hair when in public.

The police deny Amini was mistreated and say she died of a heart attack.

Amini’s family says she had no history of heart trouble and that they were prevented from seeing her body before she was buried. The demonstrations erupted after her funeral in the Kurdish city of Saqez on Saturday, and quickly spread to other parts of the country, including Tehran.

WHO IS PROTESTING?

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After beginning on Saturday at Amini’s funeral in the Kurdish region, protests have engulfed much of the country, prompting confrontations as security forces have sought to suppress them.

Women have waved and burned their veils in protest, with some cutting their hate in public.

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Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute Mariam Memarsadeghi told CBC News that “people of all different world views and lifestyles are out on the streets in one voice demanding the overthrow of the regime.”

Official sources now say a total of seven people have been killed since protests erupted on Saturday, however reports from Kurdish rights group Hengaw indicate a larger toll.

Hengaw also said access to the internet had been cut in the Kurdistan province — a move that would hinder videos being shared from a region where the authorities have previously suppressed unrest by the Kurdish minority.

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Disrupting internet access is a tactic used by regimes to limit communication and mobility amongst protesters.

Additionally, the website of Iran’s Central Bank was briefly taken down on Wednesday as hackers claimed they had targeted the websites of several Iranian state agencies.

Central Bank spokesman Mostafa Qamarivafa denied that the bank itself was hacked, saying only that the website was “inaccessible” because of an attack on a server that hosts it, in remarks carried by the official IRNA news agency. The website was later restored.

The Culture Ministry’s website was also unavailable as of Wednesday afternoon.

Hackers linked to the shadowy Anonymous movement said they targeted other Iranian state agencies, including state TV and the office of the presidential spokesman.

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A person dressed as Iranian President Ebrahim Rasi covered in blood with snakes on his shoulders participates in a protest against Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a rally in New York City on September 21, 2022, amid the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
A person dressed as Iranian President Ebrahim Rasi covered in blood with snakes on his shoulders participates in a protest against Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a rally in New York City on September 21, 2022, amid the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Photo by ALEX KENT/AFP via Getty Images

WHAT NEXT?

Iranian leaders have vowed to investigate the circumstances of Amini’s death while accusing unnamed foreign countries and exiled opposition groups of seizing on it as a pretext to foment unrest. That’s been a common pattern in the protests that erupted in recent years.

The protests Iran is seeing today are reminiscent of its 2019 nationwide attempt of overthrowing of the government and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, which saw as many as 1,500 protesters killed.

“The only way these women and girls in Iran can be free of this indiscriminate violence, humiliation and everyday fear of a totalitarian regime is to be rid of that regime,” Memarsadeghi said.

“Speaking out like this is definitely better than not doing so, but the foreign policies of democratic states and the United Nations has to be that this is a regime that should not exist… So long as this cabal rules, there really is no prospect for women’s rights inside Iran.”

With additional reporting from AP and Reuters

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