“The best way for Canadians to help is to remember and amplify. The Iranian government wants the world to forget what it has done.”
On September 16, Mahsa Amini, 22, died in police custody after being detained by Iran’s morality police. She was accused of violating a modesty law that requires women to dress modestly and wear a headscarf. Hours after her death, anti-government protests began in Tehran and spread to more than 50 cities in Iran, with some women cutting their hair and burning their scarves in solidarity. Amini’s death has resulted in an outpouring of support around the world: last weekend, protests broke out in several European and Canadian cities. Kaveh Shahrooz, an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist, helped organize a protest in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Shahrooz spoke with Maclean’s about what this historic moment means for Iran and those living in the diaspora.
I was born in Iran and lived there until I was 10 years old. As a child, my family would take me to see various prisons and tell me about the political prisoners who were there. We had a personal connection with them: my uncle was executed along with thousands of other political prisoners during the mass executions in Iran in 1988. Eventually, we moved to Canada in 1990.
While I was in law school, I decided to write my thesis on the 1988 executions, as there wasn’t much documentation about it at the time. It was a difficult choice: either publish my thesis and never visit Iran again, or let the injustices of the regime fade away. I published it and since then I have been working on human rights. I still have a lot of family in Iran and I can’t visit them anymore because of my activism, but I have done this for them and many others who want to see Iran become a better place.
day 17 #IranProtests2022 turned #Iran2022Revolution
That is #Isfahan University of Technology.
“Freedom, freedom, freedom.”
The university follows the model @SharifUni & founded in 1974
Nationwide protests on campuses today after attack https://t.co/chtj0Ld00G pic.twitter.com/eyT7CNM3UP
— Samira Mohyeddin سمیرا (@SMohyeddin) October 3, 2022
Along with other Iranian-Canadian activists, I helped organize a protest for Mahsa Amini on Richmond Hill on October 1. We thought a few hundred people would show up. The police told us that they estimated that more than 50,000 people marched that day.
I have worked in human rights for over 20 years and sometimes it can feel like slow work. Seeing so many people that day I felt like things were changing and it kind of paid dividends. I felt very honored to be able to share that moment of optimism with my children. Being with them at the protest felt like a full circle moment: I showed them what activism and resistance looks like in the same way that my family showed me what it meant when I was a child.
Below is my son.
Ever since I was your age and stood with my mother outside Gohardasht prison to see my uncle, I have dreamed of a day when thousands would fight against this regime.
Thank you, Richmond Hill, for making that dream come true. Victory is near.
♥️#زن_زندگی_آزادی #مهسا_امینی pic.twitter.com/HZsW5RubNT
— Kaveh Shahrooz کاوه شهروز (@kshahrooz) October 2, 2022
I hugged so many people that day, like we expressed sadness and pain for what had happened, while also telling ourselves that we deserved better.
Among the many posters seen at the march were some memorable ones that also appeared at other marches around the world. People carried a version of Iran’s flag before it changed in the 1979 Revolution, indicating a desire to reconnect and return to the culture that the diaspora cherishes. Others carried signs with the phrase “Woman, Life, Liberty”— is a phrase that rejects the Islamic Republic in its entirety, an antithesis to the death, oppression and patriarchy that exists in Iran today. Another interesting thing that I saw on the signs were the names of various institutions that are part of the so-called “Iran Lobby”: entities and people that support and have ties to the current regime. These signs told people not to support them.
We knew that having high-profile leaders at the protest would bring more awareness to the cause. The president of the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress attended and we also invited the leaders of the PC, Liberal and NDP parties. Jagmeet Singh acknowledged our invitation, but attended a similar rally in Vancouver while pierre polièvre He accepted our invitation and personally attended the march. Prime Minister Trudeau and Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly did not accept our invitation.
His response is similar to the Canadian government’s general response to the Iranian regime: inadequate. Any action they have taken so far, whether it is labeling the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization or sanctioning officials and members of the morality police, has not been good enough. Politicians will vote on motions and pay lip service, but are slow to act. It makes us feel that our life is worth a little less.
The best way for Canadians to help is to remember and amplify. The Iranian government wants the world to forget what it has done. We need to make sure this story stays in the public consciousness so that it motivates people, and their governments, to act.”
— As June Findlay was told