Don’t Tell Mom
Upon the gallows hung a wretchEmily Dickinson
Too sullied for the hell to which
the law entitled him.
As nature’s curtain fell
the one who bore him tottered in
For this was woman’s son
“’twas all I had” she stricken gasped.
Oh, what a livid boon.
Mohsen Shekari, 23, was a waiter in Tehran. Majid Reza Rahnavard, 23, was publicly hanged from a crane in Mashhad (northeastern Iran) and did not have a defined profession. Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini, 39, was a worker and an orphan of both parents. He still published pictures on his Instagram that he took on a trip he had more than 17 years ago. Mehdi Karami, 22, was the son of a street handkerchief seller. His last words, spoken before his execution, shocked Iran: “Dad, the sentences have been pronounced. I am sentenced to death. Don’t tell Mom.”
With the four young people recently executed, on the charge of “enmity against God” or “corruption on earth”, following confessions extracted under torture and hasty trials conducted without lawyers. All came from modest backgrounds.
The situation in Iran is much more severe than what is happening in Europe. The media often focuses on the arrests of artists, actresses, and sportswomen, but the regime tends to be lenient with them. For example, actress Taraneh Aldousti was released on January 4 after paying a deposit of one billion tomans, or roughly 25,000 euros. She left Evin prison without a veil and smiling, and was greeted by her friends in the film industry. However, this is in stark contrast to the brutal repression faced by lower socio-economic classes and minorities, who often have no one to defend them.
In many regions of the country, such as Kurdistan and Balochistan, the regime employed its most severe system of repression, military repression. Nearly 100 people were killed in a single demonstration in Zahedan city. The security authorities claimed that protesters were armed, but were never able to prove it. In the cities of Kurdistan, pro-regime militias have repeatedly opened fire on people without providing evidence that the protesters were armed. Even in a city like Tehran, there are many videos of police officers shooting at people.
In addition to the frightening official repression, there is another form of terror that is carried out covertly and primarily targets individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The upper classes are typically spared from this type of violence, as they are also less likely to be arrested or convicted. This type of violence is committed by militiamen, undercover agents, and thugs.
“In the time of the Shah, the regime was already calling on them to repress demonstrations , ” recalls the Iranian intellectual. They were called the gardan kolof [literally, the “thick necks”- villain] . They were rather neighborhood gangs led by a small chief. Now, the current regime brings in convicts, who themselves come straight out of prison. Some even wear electronic bracelets. And they are much meaner than the villain”.
Kidnapping and killing opponents is another method of repression used by authorities and security agents. One example of this brutality is the case of Donya Farhadi, a student of architecture at Ahvaz Azad University. She disappeared on Wednesday, December 7, near the Karun River and her body was found a few days later. On 16 Azar ( December 7 – Student Day), she had participated in student protests and had a verbal conflict with the university’s Basij forces. At 21:00 o’clock that night, she was with one of her friends, whose identity is unknown, and she called her mother to inform her. After four days, her lifeless body was found by fishermen, and the family realized that she had been shot.
Nika Shakrami was one of the teenage protesters who participated in the uprising and was tortured and killed by the repressive forces of the Islamic Republic. Based on videos recorded, Shakrami was very active in the front lines of the protests, fearlessly burning scarves and shouting slogans. Therefore, as soon as the repression began, the security forces sought to arrest her on the same night. In her last call, she said that the officers were looking for her on Keshavarz Boulevard in Tehran and then she disappeared. The last available image of Shakrami shows her hiding between cars so that officers couldn’t arrest her. According to witnesses, shortly after this moment, she was finally arrested and seen in a police van. After 10 days, her injured body was identified by her family. Later, her body was stolen by security agents and buried secretly.
Finally, there is the fear for low-income and middle-class families of the heavy bail required by the judiciary for the release of their imprisoned children, which amount to billions of tomans, or thousands of euros, and which oblige them to go into debt for years, even for life, and to mortgage their apartments.
In 2017-2018, and particularly in 2019, a divide emerged that the regime likely did not anticipate. It was the young people from the working and lower-middle classes who led particularly violent demonstrations to protest against rising energy prices. They no longer identified with the regime’s religious rhetoric. However, the rest of Iran remained passive, allowing the uprising to be crushed within three weeks. According to research by Reuters, the crackdown resulted in at least 1,500 deaths and effectively ended the movement.
Mehsa’s murder happened when society was looking for a motivation to overcome everything. In the protests of the previous years, they did not shout so directly against the head of the government and about the abolition of the government, and at first they cautiously spoke against high prices, unemployment, etc. But this time, not even a slogan was given about the guidance patrol that caused this incident, and the protesters immediately went to the government.
As of November 2019, society did not believe that turning off a car’s engine in the street or sitting in the street could lead to arrest or death. However, this time, society is aware of the true nature of the government and refuses to appease it. No promises, no words, or failures can convince society to trust the authorities’ promises and stand down. People on the street are aware of the risks they face and do not see their actions as simply a civil movement or civil disobedience. They are in the streets to either win or perish. Society no longer wants to return to the past, as previous attempts have only led to worsening conditions.
Four months after the death of Zhina-Mahsa Amini on September 14th in Tehran, the deaths of more than 500 demonstrators, and the arrest of 18,000 others, the movement is weakening. The repression has contributed to reducing the protest momentum. The first death sentences, the brutalization of regime forces, and the increased deployment of security forces to certain gatherings, such as ceremonies for the fortieth day of mourning after a protester’s death, had an impact. It is also worth noting that demonstrating has an economic cost for some Iranians, who are already heavily impacted by the social and economic crisis.
Painting: We Are Making a New World by Paul Nash