KARACHI – Pakistani leaders and rights activists on Saturday joined the growing global outcry over the death of Iranian Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after being arrested by Iran’s so-called morality police for flouting the country’s strict dress code.
At least 35 people have been killed in widespread protests across Iran over the past week, according to Iranian state media, amid mounting anger over allegations that 22-year-old Amini was a victim of police brutality.
Amini was arrested in Tehran on September 13 for allegedly wearing a hijab in an “inappropriate” way. She was taken to a detention center where she collapsed shortly thereafter.
Her death three days later sparked large demonstrations and acts of resistance against the Tehran regime.
Several clips that have gone viral on social media show women publicly cutting their hair and burning headscarves, an open challenge to the Iranian authorities.
The protesters are demanding an end to what they call police brutality and moral policing, and say women should have the right to dress as they please.
The Gasht-e Ershad (Beacons) is a special police unit in Iran tasked with enforcing the Islamic dress code in public.
Pakistani women politicians reacted angrily to Amini’s death, calling for an impartial investigation into the case and calling for more freedom for women in Iran.
“It is really sad and if what is being reported is true, it is a shocking and blatant violation of fundamental rights,” Shazia Marri, Pakistan’s federal minister for poverty alleviation, told Arab News on Saturday.
“It is a complete farce of justice and highly reprehensible. Everyone must have the right to vote,” she added.
Iranian police said Amini’s death was caused by a heart attack and denied reports that officers beat her with a baton and banged her head against one of her vehicles.
Sharmila Sahibah Faruqui, an MP for Pakistan’s provincial Sindh Assembly, told Arab News it was “heartbreaking to see Mahsa Amini brutally killed by law enforcement for not wearing a hijab.”
She added: “Women’s voices must not be suppressed by the state. Women need to be empowered, not silenced.”
Sehar Kamran, a former Pakistani senator, said: “Iran must ensure that a few individuals do not smear the name of law and Islam and should bring the guilty to justice.”
She added: “The responsibility lies with the Iranian authorities to ensure justice so that such events do not happen again in the future.”
Anis Haroon, a member of the Women’s Action Forum in Pakistan, said women’s rights in Iran have suffered due to mandatory dress codes, segregation and torture by the vice squad.
“The role of the vice squad should end,” she said. “The state has no right to interfere in people’s private lives. Women in Iran should be allowed to live like free people according to the rights of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” she said.
Nighat Dad, a leading lawyer who heads the Digital Rights Foundation — a think tank that looks at digital rights through a gender lens — said Amini’s death sparked resistance “that the regime now cannot stop.”
She told Arab News that men supporting these protests are “proof of what the people of Iran now basically want from the regime.”
Women would now decide for themselves whether to wear the hijab or not, Papa said.
“And it’s actually her own choice. When we say ‘my body, my choice’ in Pakistan, we mean exactly that – that we should be in control of our body, not other people controlling it,” she added.
The dancer and activist Sheema Kermani accuses the Iranian moral police of having committed serious human rights violations for decades.
She said the Iranian state’s warnings to citizens and an internet blackout are “ominous signs that reflect the totalitarian regime’s intention to use more brutal force against the protesters.”
She said, “We are proud of the Iranian women who are resisting strongly even though they are the most vulnerable group.”
Nayab Gohar Jan, an activist with the Pakistan People’s Party, told Arab News that it is time for Iran to have serious talks on women’s rights.
“Given the scale of the nationwide protests, it may also be time for the Iranian authorities to engage in dialogue on these issues,” she said.