Iranians in Toronto protest after young woman dies in police custody in Iran

·4 min read
Members of the Iranian community gathered in Toronto Monday evening to protest against the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died Friday after being detained by Iran's morality police.  (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC - image credit)
Members of the Iranian community gathered in Toronto Monday evening to protest against the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died Friday after being detained by Iran's morality police. (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC - image credit)

Members of the Iranian community in Toronto are taking a stand against what they say is the world's silence following the death of a 22-year-old woman in Iran after she was detained by the morality police.

Mahsa Amini was arrested in Iran on Sept. 13 after police reportedly took issue with her hijab, a headscarf that Iran's morality police requires all women, regardless of nationality or religious belief, to wear.

She died three days later.

Police say her death was due to a heart attack but many community members believe Amini was murdered while in custody.

Azam Jangravi is one of them. She was just one of a group of protesters who stood together Monday evening in downtown Toronto for a moment of silence to acknowledge a life cut short.

Darek Zdzienicki/CBC
Darek Zdzienicki/CBC

"All of the world is silent," said Jangravi, who added she was also once arrested in Iran for removing her hijab.

"Iranian women don't have any rights in Iran. We can't just walk in the streets — it is a fight when we walk in the streets."

Jangravi fled the country to protect herself and her daughter.

"I am here to be a voice [for] her," she said.

Iranian president to speak at UN this week

Amini's death comes as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is set to speak at the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week. It also comes as the United States and a number of European countries hope to negotiate a new agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, after Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the previous deal while he was president.

Speaking before his trip to the U.S., Raisi called his appearance an opportunity to talk about the "malice" that he alleges unspecified nations and world powers have toward Iran. He did not elaborate.

Western governments, including the U.S. and France, have demanded accountability for Amini's death. But for some Iranian Canadians, that doesn't go far enough.

Darek Zdzienicki/CBC
Darek Zdzienicki/CBC

"I would love to address the UN, Russia, United States, France and every single country sitting on the negotiation table of the nuclear deal with Iran and tell them any table that the government of Iran is present at, that table is based on the blood of human rights," said Nima Yajam, who identifies as a queer rights activist and a political refugee.

Yajam notes Iran's human rights abuses affect the LGBT community too, saying two activists were sentenced to death there only two weeks ago.

"You don't take human rights into your deal with Iran. If you did, you wouldn't sit on the table with Iran's government."

UN human rights commissioner calls for investigation

U.N. Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif has called for a "prompt, thorough, impartial investigation."

"Ms. Amini's tragic death and allegations must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by an independent competent authority that ensures in particular that her family has access to justice and the truth," Al-Nashif said.

Al-Nashif is calling for repeal of all discriminatory laws and regulations that enforce the mandatory hijab.

Raisi has ordered an investigation, but protest organizer Nazanin Samavati argues Iran doesn't have an independent judicial system and is concerned its investigation won't be legitimate.

Darek Zdzienicki/CBC
Darek Zdzienicki/CBC

"Iranian voices need to be heard. We are sick and tired of this brutality," said Samavati.

Samavati organized the event to raise awareness about the situation for women in Iran and about the "unjust death" of Amini.

'Machinery of violence'

Shahrzad Mojab, a professor who specializes in women's studies and education at the University of Toronto, describes the issue in Iran as a "machinery of securitization of women's bodies."

"What the women of Iran experience is a gender apartheid system … organized on the basis of differentiation of male and female members of the society," she said.

But she also puts the onus on the Canadian government, saying it has to be more vigilant about corrupt Iranian officials who are part of this "machinery of violence" using Canada as a safe haven.

"The people of Iran are crying; this is their scream that should be heard."

'The world is sleeping'

Maya Nozadtehrani, who arrived in Canada five months ago, says she hasn't been able to sleep for days, following Amini's death.

"The world is sleeping," said Nozadtehrani at Monday's protest. "Every single time something happens over there, the world keeps quiet," she added.

"Two days ago, it was Mahsa, but it could be me."

Darek Zdzienicki/CBC
Darek Zdzienicki/CBC

Nozadtehrani hopes to see the world come together for Amini the way it did for George Floyd.

"The world needs to choose between us or the regime," she said.

"Hear our voice, it's the only thing that we need."