Protests against the Iranian regime – triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s “morality police” nearly three weeks ago – continue to grow, spreading from university campuses to high schools as the academic year begins.
The theme “Women, Life, Freedom” has become the rallying cry of mostly young Iranians – mainly female teens and young women who are removing their headscarves and setting them on fire.
The protests are becoming increasingly bolder, having quickly evolved from a protest of Iran’s hijab requirement and treatment of women, to protesting the Islamic Republic itself.
“Don’t call it a protest, it’s a revolution now,” students at the Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran chanted at their protest. “Students are awake, they hate the leadership!” chanted students at the University of Mazandaran in the country’s north.
Proving just how deeply Iranians want freedom from oppressive Islamic rule, on Monday, for the first time, schoolgirls in Iranian secondary schools joined the protests.
Videos verified by the BBC showed teenage girls in school uniforms waving their hijabs while shouting slogans similar to those that have been chanted in protests across the country.
In the city of Karaj, schoolgirls were shown forcing a local official out of their school, shouting “shame on you” and throwing empty water bottles at him. Schoolgirls marched in the street, waving their hijabs in the air, and chanted, “death to the dictator,” referring to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Passing cars honked their horns in support.
“It’s hard to put into context just how unprecedented these scenes are in Iran,” wrote BBC journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh on social media.
Similar scenes took place in Shiraz, in the south of the country; in Tehran; and in the northwestern cities of Saqqez and Sanandaj.
Additionally, photographs were published showing female students standing with their heads uncovered in class, giving the middle finger to the portraits on the wall of Ayatollah Khamenei and of the Islamic Republic founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
A girl who filmed her friends waving their headscarves in the air while shouting slogans of freedom wrote to the Iranian-American journalist and activist Masih Alinejad: “We are not scared, we don’t want to live with humiliation.”
On Monday, Israel’s Channel 12 aired rare footage taken by an anonymous Iranian filming the protests in Tehran with a hidden camera on behalf of the channel.
“Shalom Ohad, I am with the protesters in Iran. … Now I am filming the protests with a hidden camera,” said the cameraperson, greeting Channel 12’s Palestinian Affairs correspondent Ohad Hemo. Even the greeting puts this individual at immense risk, as any interaction with Israelis is viewed as extremely negative by the Iranian regime.
The footage shows protesters chanting, “I will kill whoever kills my brother,” and “death to the dictator.”
Boys’ schools and young men have joined the women-led demonstrations.
On Monday, Khamenei reacted to the protests for the first time, condemning them as “rioting” and blaming the United States and Israel for fomenting them in order to destabilize Iran. He stated that it was “not normal” and “unnatural” that women were removing their hijabs.
“This rioting was planned,” he told police students in Tehran. “These riots and insecurities were designed by America and the Zionist regime, and their employees.”
Protestors however fired back.
“Our enemy is right here (the Islamic Republic), they lie to us when they say it’s America,” university students chanted, according to videos tweeted from one of the protests.
Iranian security forces have killed at least 92 people during the protests, the Norway-based Iran Human Rights NGO said on Sunday. One of the victims was 17-year-old Nika Shakarami, who disappeared on Sept. 20, after being chased by security forces during the protests.
Ten days later, Shakarami’s family found her body in a morgue at a detention center in Tehran; the security forces had smashed her nose and skull. On Wednesday, the BBC reported that security forces had stolen her body and buried her secretly before the family was able to.
Another victim was Hadis Najafi, a 22 year-old woman who Iranian security forces shot in the head and neck with live ammunition and birdshot on Sept. 21 in Karaj. Najafi was killed just one hour after sending a video message to her friends, saying: “I hope in a few years, when I look back, I will be happy that everything has changed for the better.”