Seventeen-year-old Armita Geravand is dead. Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was beaten and arrested at Armita’s funeral! For what? For defying Iran’s brutally enforced hijab (headscarf) for women. The same reason as 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was state-murdered and why political prisoner Narges Mohammadi recently received added jail time. Banned Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti’s comment captures the sentiments of Nasrin, Narges and millions of Iran’s hijab rebels. Iran’s many political prisoners—women and men—are jailed, tortured, and executed for standing up for others. We must stand up for them and emulate them. Their stories are depicted by the Angélique Kidjo song “How Can I Tell You?” in the 2020 gripping documentary Nasrin. As of this writing, Nasrin is on hunger strike despite serious underlying health conditions. In its October 29 press release, PEN America aptly said, “She has withstood over a decade of harassment, imprisonment, and hunger strikes without flinching.”1
Defiant Hijab Rebels Collide with Repressive Woman-Hating Regime
On October 1, Armita boarded a metro train in Tehran with friends but without a hijab. Shortly thereafter she was carried out unconscious. Witnesses say she was confronted by a hijab enforcer who violently pushed her, causing her to fall and hit her head. The unconvincing official story was that she had a sudden loss of blood pressure, fell and hit her head. She lay in a coma with brain damage for weeks,2 and died on October 28. Her funeral was held at a cemetery in Tehran amidst heavy government security who attacked and arrested mourners, protesters and several family members.
Political prisoners in Iran, their supporters, and many others have responded with statements of outrage at the murder of Armita, the clampdown of the security forces, and in solidarity with the struggle against the woman-hating compulsory hijab laws and its enforcers. Narges Mohammadi, human rights activist and 2023 Nobel Peace Prize winner, issued this statement from Evin prison (October 29, 2023):
Armita Geravand, full of the enthusiasm of life, was sent to the brink of death because of her beautiful hair, which she had no intention of hiding with “Mandatory Hijab”. … The news of Armita Geravand's murder, manipulated by security services, concealed under the rubble, filled with deceit, and government lies, was like a small sound amidst many louder voices in the midst of the casualties in the Middle East war. It was a fire that sought to extinguish the flames of Mahsa, Nika, Sarina, Ghazaleh, and others, caused by the religious, dictatorial woman-hating government. … I will never forget the innocent death of Armita Geravand, and I will not tolerate the “Mandatory Hijab” anymore in her memory.3
On the X.com account of imprisoned rebel rapper Toomaj Salehi that is run by his appointed admin, there was a courageous message from Toomaj himself that said (translated to English by IEC volunteers):
Anti-compulsory-hijab activist Sepideh Rashno was recently sentenced to six more months in prison in her latest “trial,” which she was not allowed to attend. In July 2022, she had been assaulted on a city bus by a hijab enforcer and the video had gone viral. A writer and translator, Sepideh was initially convicted of “association and collusion with the intent of endangering national security” and “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” In her new case, she faced additional charges of “promoting moral corruption” and “propaganda against the regime,” for sharing a photo of herself without hijab on social media. She now faces over four years prison time.
Katayoun Riahi, a prominent Iranian actress banned for her hijab defiance, asked the regime on her Instagram, “…who are you to ban me?” She included photos of twenty colleagues who were officially banned from acting earlier this week. “I said goodbye to the world of acting when I was in solitary confinement at Evin prison,” Hengameh Ghaziani, who has also been banned, wrote in an Instagram post.4
After the authorities announced the death of Armita that night, people took to the rooftops and windows in areas of Tehran to chant Armita’s name and against the regime: “Down with the girl-killing regime,” “Down with the dictator,” and “Death to Khamenei.”5 Vigils and marches against Armita’s death and condemning Iran’s murderous regime also took place in several cities around the world. Hengaw, a human rights group, reported arrests of some protesters against her death.6
While Armita lay in coma, two journalists were tried and sentenced for helping to break the story of Mahsa Jina Amini’s hospitalization one year ago. Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi received outrageous sentences of seven years and six years respectively.
Then, just hours after Armita’s death, Tehran Prosecutor Ali Salehi initiated legal proceedings against the prominent reformist political commentator Sadegh Zibakalam and two journalists for their social media posts, along with the administrators of the Telegram news channel Roozarooz.7
Imperialists and Their Mouthpieces Have No Shame
Hannah Neuman, a German member of European Parliament, US officials, their media mouthpieces, and the pro-US “Prince” Reza Pahlavi all rushed to use Armita’s death to gain moral-superiority-mileage against their rival regime in Iran. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan went straight from defending the US/Israel killings in Gaza to saying on X, “I am deeply saddened to learn that Armita Geravand has died after being beaten by Iran’s morality police for not wearing a hijab in public. Iran’s state-sponsored violence against its own people is appalling and underscores the fragility of the regime.” Does the condemnation of Iran’s child-killing regime in Armita’s death seem hollow as these same bourgeois forces throw support behind Israel’s killings of thousands of children and adults in Gaza?
This highlights the importance of this statement in the Emergency Appeal from the IEC:
The governments of the U.S. and Iran act from their national interests. And, in this instance, we the people of the U.S. and Iran, along with the people of the world, have OUR shared interests, as part of getting to a better world: to unite to defend the political prisoners of Iran.
Freeing Iran’s Political Prisoners
As the world watches and millions protest the horror of the genocide in Gaza by Israel backed by the US, the fight to free Iran’s political prisoners based on IEC’s view takes on more urgency. The mullahs have cemented the forced hijab and suppression of women into a cornerstone that coheres their rule based on religious Sharia law since their founding in 1979. Even before but definitely since the unprecedented Women-Life-Freedom (or Jina) uprising, the women and men in Iran are renewing their resistance to this centerpiece of oppression. Where this clash will go is not known, but what we do know is that many of the political prisoners stand at the forefront of this struggle and we must not let them down. Armita’s senseless death, and Nasrin’s beating/incarceration at the hands of Iran’s regime are reminders that lives are indeed in the balance.