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Opinion: The relentless bravery of Iranian protesters is a moral test for the Western world

Editor’s note: Frida Ghiti, (@fridaghitis) former producer and correspondent for CNN, is a columnist on world affairs. She is a weekly opinion contributor to CNN, a columnist for the Washington Post and a columnist for the World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. See more opinion on CNN.


On the 40th day after Mahsa Amini died while in the custody of the Iranian regime’s intrusive morality police, the protests sparked by her death have become even more widespread, more defiant, more determined.

They also reinforced the moral imperative for the rest of the world to do more.

At Amini’s birthplace in Saqqez, where the 22-year-old also known as Zhina is now buried, thousands of people defied the police and turned out to mark an important day in the grieving process, even as security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas to arrest them.

Demonstrations also took place in many other cities: in Isfahan, women waved black headscarves in the air, chanting “Azadi, Azadi! (“Freedom, freedom!) in Persian. In Shiraz, young women confidently walked the city sidewalks without veils, their hair is flowing in the air in violation of Iranian law. In Amol, where authorities have previously shot and killed protesters, unarmed men and women marched directly towards armed security forces, knelt, raised their hands and declared themselves ready to die for their cause.

If Amini’s death became the trigger for this uprising, it was the compulsory headscarf, or hijab, that became its symbol, so familiar was her run-in with the morality police to so many women. She was traveling to Tehran from her hometown in Iran’s Kurdish region last month when she was arrested for not wearing her hijab properly – a degrading experience familiar to Iranian women who are routinely harassed for minor dress infractions . Authorities later claimed that Amini died of an illness while in a “rehabilitation center”. Her family says she was in perfect health.

In the weeks that followed, the regime killed hundreds of peaceful protesters, many of them children and idealistic young women.

One of the teenage girls whose bravery and death has become a rallying cry is Nika Shahkarami, a 16-year-old who disappeared last month after waving her hijab in the air during a protest in Tehran, then set fire to another scarf in front of a small crowd.

Nika later turned out to be dead. Although the Iranian government and state media have claimed her death had nothing to do with the uprising, a CNN investigation found video and testimonies showing she was chased by Basiji militias in civilian clothes. – security forces used by the regime to repress protesters – following his protest. Eyewitnesses told CNN they saw Nika among groups of arrested protesters later that night. It was the last time she was seen, days before her battered body was released to her grieving family. Now his mother also rallies protesters.

The courage of Iranians, young and old, who risk everything for a chance at freedom, defies the predictions of jaded foreign observers. Recalling previous failed protests, many argued that the force of this one, with its cries of “Women, Life, Freedom”, was little more than a doomed social media mirage.

But the protests persist. Seven weeks later, they have lasted longer than any uprising since the 1979 revolution toppled the Pahlavi regime and brought today’s theocracy to power. And these manifestations are different from their predecessors. In 2009, the Green Movement supported a reform candidate. In 2019, protesters denounced difficult economic conditions.

This time the women, and the men who have joined them, shout, “Death to the dictator.” It is not about reform. This is a fundamental change.

Let’s be honest. From day one of the protests, it has been inspiring, but also terrifying to watch. We have seen what the Islamic Republic is capable of. We fear for the safety of these brave people, and it may seem irresponsible to encourage them. The odds, after all, are stacked against them. And yet, they made the choice to continue the fight. They deserve our solidarity.

As a group of 12 female foreign ministers said in an October 26 statement, “we have a moral obligation” to support this women-led movement. But the people demanding their freedom in Iran need more than token support – even if tokens matter.

The United States and other Western powers have always been concerned about backing Iranian protesters, as the regime already views those who oppose them as tools of the West. The Obama administration allowed such concerns to muzzle its response to the 2009 protests. The Biden administration is trying not to make the same mistake – already, Washington has repeatedly come out in support of the protest movement. On Wednesday, the State Department announced new sanctions against Iranians involved in suppressing protests.

It’s a good start. Anyone — regime officials, Basiji militias, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps — involved in crushing the protests should be barred from entering the United States. Other countries should follow suit.

But much more can be done.

Germany announced this week that, given the situation, there could be no “business as usual” with Iranlaunching a far-reaching diplomatic response that includes a review of bilateral trade and financial relations, support for nongovernmental organizations monitoring crimes against protesters, and expanded protections for “especially vulnerable Iranians,” among other efforts.

The United States, its other allies, democracies around the world, and any country that rejects the regime’s actions should join in the diplomatic isolation of Iran. Diplomatic relations must continue, but as long as Iran kills protesters, relations must deteriorate. And Iran must be expelled from the UN Commission on the Status of Women. His presence there is a parody.

Then there’s the matter of the abandoned 2015 nuclear deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — that the Biden administration is working to reinstate. Currently, negotiations to revive the deal, designed to delay Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon, are stalled because Iran keeps upping the ante. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said he does not foresee a return to the JCPOA in the “short term”. Such wording probably means that the goal of reviving it is not completely dead.

The United States and its allies want to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons, an irrefutable objective. But restarting the deal could net hundreds of billions of dollars for the regime that is currently killing peaceful protesters, arming Russia with killer drones used to slaughter innocent Ukrainians and continuing to support terror groups across the Middle East. . At the very least, the wisdom of reviving the nuclear deal needs to be reassessed.

The relentless bravery of Iranian women, of the Iranian people, is a timely moral test for the rest of the world. They deserve more than they received.

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