‘They’re trying to silence people’: University of Kansas group rallies in support of Iranian women

By: - March 9, 2023 8:33 am
Retired University of Kansas faculty Susan Elkins and Jack Winerock hold a sign reading “Iran is bleeding" during a rally March 8, 2023, in front of Wescoe Hall. (Chloe Anderson for Kansas Reflector)

Retired University of Kansas faculty Susan Elkins and Jack Winerock hold a sign reading “Iran is bleeding” during a rally March 8, 2023, in front of Wescoe Hall. (Chloe Anderson for Kansas Reflector)

LAWRENCE — Members of the University of Kansas Iranian Community Association gathered Wednesday in front of Wescoe Hall to rally in support of Iranian women.

People across the globe held International Women’s Day rallies to highlight recent violence against Iranian women and demand equal rights. Iranians started protesting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s regime following the Sept. 13, 2022, arrest of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Amini, who was arrested for wearing her hijab unlawfully, died in police custody three days later.

Iranian security forces have killed hundreds of civilians since the protests began. Still, women and schoolgirls risk their lives every day to stand up against the injustices. But because independent news media were banned from reporting in Iran and authorities have disrupted internet usage, many outside of the country remain unaware of the situation.

In addition to extreme measures used to suppress Iranian protesters, authorities also have been poisoning schoolgirls with mysterious gas. According to the BBC, more than 1,000 students have been hospitalized since the attacks started in November.

“There’s not a lot of information that’s known, because that’s what the government’s trying to do — they’re trying to silence people,” said Mercedeh Tavacoli, a dual citizen born in Kansas with family in Iran. “That’s an even bigger issue, because this is the first ever women-led revolution.”

According to an article from History Today, “women, life, freedom” became the revolution’s slogan during Amini’s funeral on Sept. 17 in Saqqez.

Following her death, Iranian women took to the streets, removing and burning their hijabs and even cutting their hair. By continuing to do so, they’re risking their lives by defying the country’s “morality police,” an Islamic religious force designed to enforce the strict laws regarding women’s behavior.

Young Iranian girls and teenagers are involved in the uprising, removing their hijabs in schoolyards and chanting “women, life, freedom” in classrooms.

In the months following the uprising, Khamenei threatened punishment for protesters, saying the punishment for young women would be “special.” On Monday, he publicly acknowledged the gas attacks for the first time, calling them “unforgivable” and saying the culprits should be “severely punished.”

Khamenei has downplayed the attacks on protesters and alleged that demonstrations were orchestrated by Iranian enemies like the United States and Israel. Authorities have denied killing peaceful demonstrators, but video footage has captured them shooting at civilians during protests.

Several of the KU students, staff and community members gathered in front of Wescoe Hall have family members in Iran and fear for their loved ones’ safety as tensions escalate.

“There are a lot of people who have been shot and killed who weren’t even protesting,” Tavacoli said. “They were kind of collateral damage.”

Neda Hejazi, a postdoctoral researcher from Isfahan, said members of her extended family are terrified to send their children to school following the gas attack Monday on the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences campus, but government officials won’t allow them to keep their children home.

“They’re forced — by government authorities — to attend in-person classes,” Hejazi said.  “It doesn’t make any sense. They’re just kids.”

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Chloe Anderson
Chloe Anderson

Chloe Anderson is a freelance photojournalist with work published in Climbing magazine, the Lawrence Times, Kansas Reflector and Sharp End Publishing. As a recent graduate of the University of Kansas, Chloe hopes to continue her career in photography, rock climbing and writing somewhere out West.