Even as 130 are killed, young Iranians risk it all to demand change




  • In World
  • 2022-10-04 16:16:26Z
  • By CBS News
 

Unprecedented scenes are emerging from the Islamic Republic of Iran: Schoolgirls across the country are flouting the law, some uncovering their hair, and many chanting, "We don't want the Islamic Republic!" and even, "Khamenei is a murderer!"

It is a rare and highly risky direct criticism of Iran's 83-year-old Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who on Monday accused the United States and Israel of plotting the protests that have swept across the nation.

"They have sat down and planned this," Khamenei claimed in his first public comments since the demonstrations began 18 days ago. "Those who take their salaries, some being traitorous Iranians abroad, have helped them."

His words did nothing to quell the calls for freedom spreading from school to school and university to university across Iran. The protests were sparked by the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's "morality police." She was accused of wearing an improper hijab, which covers the hair and body, as required under the country's draconian interpretation of Islamic law.

Since Saturday, when the academic year officially began in Iran, college students have been protesting daily, shouting slogans such as "The mullahs must get lost!" and "Iran is drowning in blood, our professors are drowning in silence."

People under the age of 25, most of them women, have continued to drive the protests despite a harsh crackdown by the regime.

The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group says at least 133 people across Iran have been killed by the authorities since the protests began. That figure includes more than 40 people reportedly killed in the southeast city of Zahedan last Friday. Thousands more have been arrested, according to activists.

"Everyone is out on the streets," one college student said in a video message. "We have to keep going. They can't arrest all of us."

On Sunday, security forces besieged Tehran's prestigious Sharif University of Technology - often referred to as the MIT of Iran - where students had been protesting peacefully. The student union said armed plainclothes agents beat demonstrators with batons, fired at them with plastic bullets and shotguns at short range, chased students down into a parking garage, and brutally arrested hundreds of them - though many were later released.

"The ground was full of blood," one woman said on condition of anonymity, adding that the authorities started scrubbing it clean the next day. "Nobody was chanting anything bad. We just want freedom. Why do I have to be afraid? We are human beings. We want to live like the rest of the world."

The Iranian authorities "think that by using force, brutal force, they can be in power forever," Maziar Bahari, the London-based editor of IranWire news, told CBS News. "But of course, they're wrong."

Bahari said Iran's younger generations have simply had enough.

"My generation and the generation after me, we gave the government the chance to reform itself," said Bahari, who was jailed in Iran in 2009 while living and working there as a journalist for Newsweek. "But this generation can see that… the Islamic Republic cannot be reformed, so this government has to be ended."

Modern Iran emerged with the overthrow of a secular government in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Now, 43 years later, many young Iranians in the Islamic Republic are fed up with what they see as repressive rules, global isolation and severe Western sanctions imposed on their country.

"Young people are becoming poorer," Bahari said. "They are being humiliated at school. They're being humiliated on the streets by the morality police… their country is being humiliated by the world because of their kind of government. So, imagine living in that country. You want change. You want the change today."

Iran's Gen Z - those born between the late 1990s and early 2010s - are also the first generation to have grown up immersed in social media and the Internet, much like their counterparts in the West, explains Holly Dagres, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

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