Anger and frustration against the Islamic regime in Iran became nation- and world-wide protests after the murder of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police on Sept. 16, 2022.
In Iran, the protests were met with a severe and violent crackdown by the government and police. In addition to larger protests, workers at some companies also went on strike.
Iranian-Canadian residents of Waterloo Region joined in the fight early on.
On Oct. 6, students and community members held an information session at the University of Waterloo.
On Oct. 22, they held one of many rallies against the regime and walked from Kitchener City Hall to the Clock Tower in Willow River Park, where speeches took place.
Organizers and members of the rally gave speeches sharing their experiences and desires.
Berry Vrbanovic, mayor of Kitchener; Bardish Chagger, MP for Waterloo; Mike Morrice, MP Kitchener Centre; Brian May, MP Cambridge; and Tim Louis, MP Kitchener-Conestoga also gave speeches in support and appreciation.
One UW alumnus, who came to Canada for his master’s degree in the early 2000s, spoke to the continuing legacy of university activism and government suppression in Iran.
The 1980s were dominated by the Iran-Iraq war. In 1997, a faction of the ruling group opened up the way for a fraction of freedom of expression for Iranian people—an initiative by the Reformist Bloc supported by a desperate population.
In just two years, the hardliners in the ruling party restarted the brutal crackdown on protests, especially on university students.
In 1999, protests at the University of Tehran ended in several dead.
“Despite all this, we continued our support for the Reformists as we really wanted to reform the system from within. We believed a revolution is too costly for pursuing change,” the UW alumnus said.
“We gradually realized that it is impossible to reform the Islamic Republic,” he said.
In 2009, the violent crackdown on the Green Movement, political freedoms were increasingly suppressed he said. Self-censorship by newspapers increased in response to journalists given long prison sentences, protests in following years were met with violence and death.
It was in this context that Mahsa Amini’s murder took place.
Two of the organizers read out a list of names of people murdered since the current round of protests began. They also spoke of the workers in several sectors that continue to strike under threat of violence.
“The issue has not been just political freedoms. There has been a lot of corruption and economic mismanagement,” the UW alumnus said.
“Basically, a small group of ruling people—in particular members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—control a lot of the economic activity without much transparency.”
Vrbanovic said Kitchener’s and Waterloo Region’s solidarity is with the Iranian people against the Islamic regime.
“As members of our Kitchener community, we are listening to and joining the voices of Iranian Canadians in our community and those everywhere who are demanding better for Iranians and especially Iranian women,” Vrbanovic said.
Chagger spoke from her perspective as a child of immigrants and a woman. She affirmed the identity of Iranian-Canadians without the influence of the Islamic regime.
“I want you to know that this regime does not define the Iranian people. It does not define your language, it does not define your culture, your values, who you are. You define who you are,” Chagger said.
“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says, ‘diversity is our strength’. You are our strength,” she said.
Rallies and protests are ongoing in the region—on Oct. 29, there was a human chain as part of a larger Human Chains for Iran’s Revolution initiative around the world.
The rally attendees spoke of injustices and atrocities, of loss and grief, of fear and exhaustion, but they also sang and danced to revolutionary songs. They also celebrated the hope for a better future for themselves and their homeland.
“The hope that the main slogan of this movement defines our future liberties—woman, life, freedom,” the UW alumnus said.
For more information on initiatives in solidarity with the Iranian protests, visit @kw_mahsa on Instagram.