Iran Protests: Voices from Iran (Updated)
As nationwide protests continue to sweep Iran, there are very few direct voices from inside Iran reaching the international stage. An understanding of the fabric of the society and its rapidly evolving outlook and demands is essential for understanding the protests and what the international community should do.
Our team at the Center for Human Rights in Iran is in daily contact with Iranians throughout the country. In regular updates posted below, we will be publishing what we are hearing from Iranians from all walks of life.
Nov 22, 2022
Excerpts from our conversations with two girls and two young women in Mashhad, Iran, who spoke on the condition of anonymity:
“S” 17, High School Student, 11th Grade
“N” 17, High School Student, 11th Grade
“M” 21, University Student, Dentistry
“J” 22, University Student, English Language
On the Protests: “We only think about finding new ways to fight and protest so that our voices are heard by more people”
These past two months have been the best days of my time in school, especially since students joined the protests… Everyone is indeed worried, and many parents don’t allow their children to participate in the protests. But for me and many of my friends, there have been days when we feel proud and strong. I’m sure our revolution will be victorious!
N: Despite being worried, many parents join us in the street protests. Compared to the early days, I see more parents and children in the streets.
M: Many university students, especially new ones, were ready to protest and go on strike and generally join the people’s movement. Mahsa’s murder ignited all this hidden energy. Almost no one is in university classes right now. Everyone is getting ready to protest. In my opinion, this is not a student movement, but a complete revolution, with a clear goal: The departure of the Islamic Republic.
J: I’m not a political person at all. For example, when I listen to the political lingo from commentators who try to explain the protests, I don’t understand much of what they’re saying. The students, my classmates, we don’t talk like that amongst ourselves. We only think about finding new ways to fight and protest so that our voices are heard by more people.
On the Hijab: “All of us are pretty sure that the mandatory hijab is a matter of life or death for the Islamic Republic. For this reason, we shouldn’t back down”
S: I think the compulsory hijab doesn’t exist in Iran anymore. I see many people who used to wear a headscarf on the street, but now they don’t. Or my father, for example, used to be sensitive about the hijab but isn’t anymore. When he sees a girl without a headscarf on the street, he gives her encouragement.
N: In my opinion, the compulsory hijab in Iran is over. We live in Mashhad, where there are many religious families, and the women wear the chador [head-to-veil]. Just like my father’s family. I have three aunts who wear the chador, and they were always sensitive about the hijab. But now the same aunts encourage me not to wear a scarf. One of my chador-clad aunts even writes slogans (against the regime) on city walls.
M: All of us are pretty sure that the mandatory hijab is a matter of life or death for the Islamic Republic. For this reason, we shouldn’t back down from demanding its end. You can indeed see many girls in the city without a headscarf, but as long as there is a mandatory hijab law in schools, universities, and offices, it’s no good. We’re now fighting to stop wearing headscarves and veils in universities. Of course, it will be difficult.
J: For women, the hijab has challenged our dignity. In my family, some women wore the hijab at family parties, but now almost everyone goes out without a headscarf. I think during this period, a very important change has also happened in men and boys… Men and boys look at us differently these days. Even my boyfriend used to make me upset with some of his thoughts on women, but he’s changed a lot, too. He even bought me a gift the other day and said it was for my bravery!
On the Future: “I hope that one day most of the political leaders will be women”
S: I don’t like politics. I mean, I don’t like anything related to politics. Even voting! Even now, when people talk about the protests in school or on the street, I don’t listen because I think these discussions drain our energy to fight. I don’t know any of these politicians except the few important officials of the Islamic Republic like Khamenei and Raisi. I mean, I don’t follow politics because I think they don’t do anything for us at all; they’re looking after their own interests. It’s like the mafia. We, the people, must defeat the mafia, otherwise they will kill us. Politics has no meaning anymore.
N: In Iranian schools and even at home, you never learn anything about politics. What does political activity mean? What does it mean to be a member of a faction, group, or party? Maybe if we learned these things, we could say that we understand politics. The most important thing we all want is a normal system of government like everywhere else in the world. A system where everything is clear. And most importantly, everything should be transparent. For example, if the Islamic Republic of Iran lifts the mandatory hijab law, it will still not be enough, because it can bring the law back again, because there is nothing transparent or lawful in Iran’s politics. Everything is dictated from above.
M: There should be a transparent political system. In the university, as a sample of society, we want a transparent and legal system that does not act arbitrarily. For example, in many universities, students have almost solved the problem of [gender segregation in cafeterias]. What the authorities had imposed on students was not based on a law, but their personal tastes. Many people are talking about the future leader of the protests and giving all kinds of analysis, but what the students are striving for is the creation of an efficient system, they’re not trying to find a leader.
J: I hope that one day most of the political leaders will be women. I think they’re better at it. During the pandemic, countries that had female heads of state were more successful in the fight against COVID-19.
October 22, 2022
“I had always argued that the nuclear deal should be signed… But now I oppose it”
A 56-year-old freelancer living in Tehran told us “I have participated in the protests several times because I think that there’s no way this government can be reformed. Fundamental change is possible only when this government goes away. I will participate in the protests for as long as I’m physically able.”
“We come from a religious family, but over time our outlook has changed. We now have a liberal point of view. We’re not in any way supporters of the government or the state. For 19 years, we have stood against the government and the state in any way we could.”
“I have three children. My two sons live near me in Tehran; one is doing military service, but before he became a soldier, he always participated in the protests. Me and my younger son, who is a student in graphic design, always participate in protests and demonstrations together. Also, my wife and I, and a group of friends, have joined many protests.”
“We support our children [going to the protests], but we almost die worrying. For example, if I go to the protests with my children, I constantly worry about them. So, I prefer to go alone. Anyway, we’re parents and we get very worried about our children—and about all young people who participate in the protests.”
“I had always argued that the nuclear deal should be signed, even though I knew it would extend the regime’s life. But now I oppose it and am willing to endure every hardship and misfortune. The Iranian government should be boycotted internationally, and our fate should be determined as soon as possible. I want to see this regime overthrown at any cost. I know it’s wrong to say, “at any cost,” but the regime’s actions have brought us to this point.”
October 8, 2022
Despite the threat of violence, “many gathered around their homes and chanted slogans”
A 35-year-old female government employee residing in the northeastern city of Mashhad told us: I and many of my colleagues used various excuses to take a leave for today [Saturday, October 8, 2022] to participate in the protests. Although I and many other friends, colleagues, relatives, and neighbors were aware of the possibility of violent repression, many gathered around their homes and chanted slogans.
The greatest difference from previous days was the presence of more military units and plainclothes agents, who were armed with guns and batons. There were many motorcycle units and police forces in plain clothes. As it got dark, the clashes increased. Until tonight, we had never seen such a fierce clash in this area of Mashhad. Many were injured.
“Almost all the women in our family wear the chador… But in the past few weeks… I heard many people in my family talking about the courage shown by the schoolgirls who removed their headscarves”
A religious couple (woman, 27, and man, 30) both employees of a private company in Mashhad told us:
Man: Professionals like us [website design and development] are practically on an unwanted strike (i.e. there’s less work these days). However, for many people like us, returning to normal life does not make sense. The thought that the protests will end, and life will resume as usual, has left our minds, and the minds of many of my peers.
Woman: There is no doubt that if the Islamic Republic tries to control these protests with more repression, there is no future for people like us who are at the beginning of our professional and personal lives. We would have no choice except to leave the country. I cannot imagine living under a government with greater repression.
Man: In my opinion, many people of my generation and those who think like me [religious and traditional] still had a kind of optimism about working in Iran and did not think of emigrating at all, but if the situation remains like this and the gap between the government and the people increases, then many people like us will also think about leaving for another country, too.
Woman: Almost all the women in our family wear the chador [full-body-covering veil). I only remove mine when I’m driving. But in the past few weeks, in several women’s gatherings, I heard many people in my family talking about the courage shown by schoolgirls who removed their headscarves.
For example, they showed me videos of girls setting fire to scarves, and none of the women in our gathering criticized it, not even the women in the family who were always known to be strict about religion.
One of our relatives, whose husband is a cleric and generally very religious and, to some extent, close to the government, said, “I now have doubts about the hijab, and I have no problem if my son marries a girl who doesn’t wear the hijab.”
“My 15–16-year-old kids are teaching me, and people like me, about what’s going on”
A 55-year-old male restaurant worker living in a poor neighborhood in Karaj told us: “The protest in our neighborhood was like a war zone. I dare say that the police and plainclothes agents were confused by the large number of people. There was a lot of gunfire and tear gas, but the people resisted a lot.
Since the schoolgirls came to the streets and protested, the police have been paying more attention to our neighborhood. At the same time, they know very well that if the girls are harmed in the slightest way, the people will react strongly.
Officers and officials think that because we live on the margins of the city, we don’t understand many things, but our children showed that they understand everything, no matter what area they live in. We’ve listened and watched and believed whatever was on the state radio and TV because we’re not very educated. But my 15 and 16-year-old kids are teaching me, and people like me, about what’s going on.
I get most of the news about the protests from my 14-year-old daughter. We don’t have a satellite TV and whatever information that is available comes from my daughter’s Instagram.
“If the anger continues… we will witness more bloody days in Mashhad and all of Iran”
The scenes I saw in Hashemieh [neighborhood] and its surroundings were just like the images I had seen on TV from the days of the 1979 revolution. I have no doubt that if the anger continues in this way, we will witness more bloody days in Mashhad and all of Iran.
The recent protests in Mashhad have been from one neighborhood to the next, followed by the security forces who try to put down protests in each one. But tonight, the number of people was so high in some neighborhoods that the agents left the scene. Tonight, I became certain that this situation is a total revolution.
“More people have been on the streets and chanted more angrily than ever in the past”
A 40-year-old male music teacher residing in Mashhad told us: In my opinion, more people have been on the streets and chanted more angrily than ever in the past. The sounds of shots fired by the officers and the arrests of people were clearly more than in the previous days. In my opinion, it was the bloodiest day of protests in Mashhad. I have no doubt that the number of those arrested today was extremely high.
“We should expect the protests, and repression, to intensify”
A male translator and editor, 40, living in Tehran told us: What I witnessed in the streets around our house on October 8, strongly reminded me of [Supreme Leader] Ali Khamenei’s speech in 2009, on a day that became known as Bloody Saturday [when protests broke out against the contested election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad).
Last Saturday, security forces were deployed on all the streets leading to Hafte Tir Square [Tehran’s central business district]. There were also protests in various neighborhoods. The intensity of the clashes was very high, and the sound of shooting could be heard for hours, even late at night.
In my opinion, we should expect the protests, and repression, to intensify. Student protests and strikes are very important. Iranian society has done very well in finding the core groups [to lead the protests]. Students are one of the most important core groups, and their emphasis on a national referendum, which is heard a lot these days, can be very decisive.
September 26, 2022
“This generation is different!”
Over the past few years, Iranians have regularly told us that the generation born in the 2000s is different in its outlook, methods of protest, and demands. This characterization is confirmed in our many conversations with Iranians.
A 68-year-old retired high school teacher residing in the northeastern city of Mashad, told us: “These protests are very different than anything I have witnessed before. I didn’t see such scenes even during the 1979 revolution. What I see from this generation born after the 2000s is unbelievable. Over the past 40 years I have taught several generations of students all over my city, but this is a different generation.”
A 36-year-old female principal of a girls’ high school in Mashad told us: “Our students have a distinct approach that in my opinion is very transparent and direct. This is a big difference with my generation who were born in the 1980s. I even see this in their interactions with their parents. As a result, they become very united during protests and very clearly and directly express their demands and anger.”
“They are threatening the kids even before they show up in school”
The traditional start of the new school year in Iran was Saturday, September 24. The government is fearful of students coming together and swelling the ranks of protesters. In several cities, such as Mashad, the start of the secondary schools has been postponed for a week. Higher education institutions have been ordered to hold virtual online classes and not to have the students in person.
A principal of a girls’ high school in Mashad told us: “The girls in our high school not only have already been participating in protests, they are full of ideas for continuing the protests once they return to school. For example, they are planning on filling walls with demands, not wearing their hijab, and using the morning line-up in the yard for chanting. Our students have been in touch with me and several teachers through a WhatsApp group for the school students. I know that so far, the Intelligence Ministry has contacted the families of three students warning them not to allow their kids to participate in the protests. This is even before the school year begins. I mean they are threatening the kids even before they show up in school.
A retired high school teacher in Mashad says, “My 19-year-old grandchild is just about to start the first year of college. He leaves every night to join the street protest and I cannot bring myself to tell him not to go. If I do so, I have contradicted everything he has heard from me and his parents regarding the injustices and oppression of this regime.”
“This is not the time for signing the nuclear deal”
In many conversations, Iranian express the fear that the Iranian government will now drop its demands that are holding up a return to the nuclear deal, in exchange for world powers to allow it a free hand in violently crushing the protests.
A 47-year-old editor and translator in Tehran says: “What is really worrying us is the situation surrounding the nuclear deal. If the Islamic Republic walks back on its positions so the deal can be signed, then it will follow with a bloody crackdown.”
A leading civil society leader who is in hiding in Tehran (the government has arrested dozens of prominent Iranians in the past few days to prevent them from playing a public role during protests) told us: “This is not the time for signing the nuclear deal. We are extremely concerned that world powers will reach an understanding with the Iranian government where [Tehran] will walk back its demands so that they can have a nuclear deal, with the implicit and behind-the-scene agreement that the world will not take any meaningful actions in the face of a domestic bloodbath.”
“There is no turning back!”
The editor and translator in Tehran believes the country has reached a turning point. “I feel like we have passed a point on no return. There is no turning back! These protests may be put down, but there won’t be any reconciliation. Life for both sides of the aisle [the people vs. the State] is dramatically changed.”
“Confrontations with the security forces were everywhere”
A 44-year-old laborer from Ghoochan, a small city just north of Mashad, noted that Ghoochan residents are traditionally conservative and many security forces who participate in putting down protests in Mashad hail from Ghoochan and their families live there. Yet, he described energetic protests in Ghoochan in recent days: “Confrontations with the security forces were everywhere. People surrounded several security forces and beat them. Security forces in return started shooting at them and beating them with batons. Most people found out about protests in Mashad and elsewhere through Instagram.”
“Ghoochan is a very small town and everyone knows each other. For example, a family from across the street have two sons who are members of the “Special Guard” [a division of security forces specially trained for putting down street protests]. Since the protests erupted in Ghoochan, their house has been totally dark and quiet and there are absolutely no visitors coming or going. They are keeping a low profile. They are afraid that people will target their house and approach it during protests or even throw rocks at their house.”