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Source: Seattle Times

Sep 14, 2023

The battle for respect and freedom in Iran continues

By Azadeh Forouzandeh

I was 18 years old and living in Iran when I was first arrested and sent to a detention center for not properly covering my hair.

I was held in a crowded room with all the other girls who had been arrested for similar reasons. The guards yelled at us, starved us, and pushed us from room to room so we’d fit in the limited space in the center.

In fact, I never respected the laws written to control what I wore and what religion I should believe in. Somehow, the morality police saw my hair out of my scarf while I crossed the street with my friend and pulled us into their van. They called me a “whore” and told me that I was trying to seduce men by showing off a little of my hair, and because of that they would not be able to go to heaven.

The police listed illegal items they accused us of having before sending us all to the detention center.

The items included eyeliner, mascara, lipstick and eye shadow; I was checked for 12 items, and I was not even wearing any makeup at the time.

They told me to sign the form. I refused to sign it.

“Why should I sign? I do not wear any of these. I can prove that if you just give me a napkin,” I said.

They added another item to my list: Failure to comply with the police … check!Now it was 13 items. The longer your list, the heavier the punishment would be.

Yes. This is when I was considered a criminal in Iran. What was my crime? Showing my hair, in order to seduce men and keep them from going to heaven after they died.

That was the first time I had to stay the night in jail.  After that, and before I left the country, I was arrested six more times. Well, to be honest, the last time that they tried to arrest me was unsuccessful because there was no more space in the van. I was wearing red nail polish on the anniversary of Imam Khomeini’s death. (He died in 1989.) Police said that nail polish is forbidden in Islamic countries, and wearing red nail polish that day was considered very disrespectful, but I got away with it.

Thirty years later, in September 2022, I heard the news that Mahsa Amini was beaten to death in the same jail I was in the first time I was arrested: Vozara Detention Center.

Mahsa’s murder sparked a revolutionary uprising in Iran that is ongoing. Nowadays, many girls and women in Iran not only do not wear scarves, but they do not even carry any scarves with them to put on in case of an emergency. This is the ultimate definition of bravery. 

The regime has lost its legitimacy. Security forces are unable to handle the civil disobedience. They try to arrest or punish some women here or there. With the economic collapse caused by corruption and incompetence, one could say that the dictator Ali Khamenei is on borrowed time.  

That is why I, and thousands of my compatriots, take to the streets, rain, or shine. It is why we have continued to fight from abroad, for a year. As we gather, our voices united, we declare that oppression will not extinguish the flame of resilience, and her legacy will continue to inspire a future where freedom and equality prevail. It is why we rise with the women of Iran.

Azadeh Forouzandeh is a health care worker and is a grassroots activist with Voice of Iran in Seattle. She and her daughter left Iran in 2012.

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