A woman twirls around around a fire—long black hair free and flowing—before tossing her hijab into the flames and other women follow, as a massive crowd cheers them on. It’s a deeply powerful and moving scene. And it’s just one of the dozens emerging from the protests in Iran, which show a country full of angry citizens who want to burn their repressive regime to the ground.
Following outrage over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, protests in Iran have quickly escalated, erupting in both major cities and more conservative regions since the first demonstrations over the weekend. Police are reportedly opening fire and surrounding universities. The Basij, the volunteer arm of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, are chasing protesters and beating them with clubs. Yet thousands of Iranians are continuing to publicly scream about the theocracy’s strict dress code, conservative rules, and oppressive treatment of women, despite the risk of imprisonment or death.
Amini, a Kurdish woman who was visiting Tehran from her hometown hundreds of miles west of the city, was arrested on Sept. 13 by the country’s so-called morality police—whose presence has increased since Iran’s current president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June—for wearing her hijab too loose. She died on Sept. 19 while in police custody. Authorities said she had a heart attack then fell into a coma, but her father told a pro-reform Iranian news site that she had no history of heart problems. Her family was also not allowed to see her body.
“Many people are pointing out that this could be my daughter, my sister, my wife,” Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), told NBC News. “This has shaken people, that every time a woman leaves home, she might not come back.”
As of Wednesday morning, at least seven people have been killed—three reportedly by “direct fire from Iranian security forces,” according to Hengaw, a Kurdish rights group, which also reported at least 450 people have been injured, many of whom are refusing to seek medical treatment over fear of being arrested. Iranian officials have denied those deaths, according to Reuters.
A video shared on Twitter (above) shows a woman chopping off her hair to the approving roars of fellow protesters. Women are also posting hair-chopping and head-shaving videos on TikTok. Yet another scene from a protest shows groups of young protesters marching around a bonfire chanting, “We are the children of war. Come on and fight, and we’ll fight back.” A cascade of gunshots can be heard in another video before swarms of protesters begin to scatter. The Associated Press reported that police used tear gas on protesters in Tehran.
A video out of the capital city shows a sea of people shouting, “death to the dictator,” referring to Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran. An aide to Khamenei said he was pained by Amini’s death—but the supreme leader failed to address Amini’s death during a speech on Wednesday.
Internet outages have been widely reported—a tactic often used by the country’s security forces to stop footage, information, and protest details from being disseminated. On Wednesday, the AP also reported that Instagram was down, which is one of the only Western platforms allowed in the country, where Twitter and YouTube are blocked.
The Iranian regime has long fought back, swiftly and brutally, against protests, most recently in 2019, when it hiked gas prices nearly 200 percent overnight. But the anger of Iranians has been simmering for decades, and the women-led protests appear to be an emboldening watershed moment for the country.
“They’re showing a serious challenge to the Islamic Republic in their chants and the amount of people that are in the streets,” Jasmin Ramsey, CHRI’s communications director, told the New York Times. “The anger on the streets is palpable.”