On Sept. 16, 2023, a rally marking the one-year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody of the Iranian Morality Police took place at the south entrance of the University of Waterloo (UW). Amini’s passing was the catalyst for the historic surge of the Women, Life, Freedom movement in Iran. A fervent call for justice, human rights and equality was heard across the world and continues to this day.
“It’s for Ukrainians, for Syrians, for Afghans. And I think the world is a better place when we have people who are empathetic to other people’s struggles. People don’t have to be queer to say that Love is love. People don’t have to be Iranian women come out and say, woman, life, freedom,” an anonymous member of the protest who chose to go by Helen, said.
During the latest wave of Iranian people’s struggle for freedom, there have been over 500 people killed by the Islamic Republic security forces. Many others are impacted by lifelong injuries, loss or prison sentences. As a part of a globally coordinated effort, the gathering at the South gate proceeded to a march towards Waterloo Public Square.
“I was reading stories. And I was feeling the pain. And I couldn’t turn away from that. Iranian-Canadian women [are] part of this community, it was too painful to look away,” Helen said.
The rally was organized by a group of independent Iranian Canadian citizens of the Waterloo Region. They have no affiliation with any political groups and follow the least of the PS752 Justice Association in being a voice for the #MahsaAmini movement in Iran.
“We have a saying in our culture, what happens in one community might not affect you now. Globally, there’s a lot of issues. And this is one of the biggest one right now because Iran is not just an issue for the people who are living there,” Maryam Latifpoor-Keparoutis, the Director of Advancement for the Faculty of Environment and a protest member, said.
The gathering at UW commemorated the victims of the Islamic Republic’s security forces and celebrates the struggle and fight for freedom.
On Sept. 21, 2022, a massive crowd gathered in protest one week after Amini’s death.
In a video captured by a member of the protest, a woman lifts a pair of scissors to her hair, without a hijab and cuts off her ponytail to a sea of cheering people.
Iranian authorities said three people, including one member of the security forces, were killed on the week of Sept. 21. Human rights groups reported that at least seven people have been killed. In a globally coordinated effort, protestors remember these victims, as well as others who have lost their life in this cause. According to CNN, the protests are striking because of their scale, ferocity and feminist nature.
“Because anyone who has experienced oppression knows that humanity is vulnerable without humans. Picking up each other and backing each other up,” Helen said.
Amini’s funeral was held in Iran’s Kurdistan province. Protests and demonstrations swept throughout the country and around the world which led to clashes with national security forces. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei did not mention the protests during his speech to veterans and military commanders commemorating the Iran-Iraq War from 1980-1988.
“And I really am so proud that my non-Iranian friends are here like my colleagues from University of Waterloo. I mean, literally, I just talked about this yesterday with them. So, it takes a village,” Latifpoor-Keparoutis said.
Amini’s father said his daughter suffered bruises to her legs and holds the police responsible for her death. Contrary to this, the Iranian coroner denied her death was caused due to the blows to her head and limbs. The report cited pre-existing medical conditions attributing to her death.
“We know that we have a moral responsibility. And this [the protest] is really not that different. Responsibility for the wrongdoings of people in Ukraine. We have a moral responsibility for Syrians for Afghan girls and Iranians,” Helen said.
Sept. 16 marks the one-year anniversary of Amini’s death. More than 200 cities across the world have participated in commemorating Amini.