Iranian women speak out: Solidarity protest planned for Prague this weekend

On Saturday, supporters in the Czech capital will join the global protests against the Tehran regime, sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini.

Ioana Caloianu

Written by Ioana Caloianu Published on 30.09.2022 09:00:00 (updated on 30.09.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 30.09.2022 09:00:00 (updated on 30.09.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

Iranian journal Banafsheh Ramezani Yeganeh moved to Prague with her husband in 2009. While the couple came to escape corruption and political instability and make a new life in Czechia, Yeganeh, now an archivist for Radio Liberty, never imagined such a dark day would come for her home country.

On Sept. 16, a 22-year-old Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini died after being taken into custody by the country's so-called morality police for failing to wear a hijab. Amini's death has triggered widespread protests and civil unrest both in Iran and abroad – the rallying cry has been heard in Prague, too. 

Yeganeh, who is co-organizing an Oct. 1 protest in the Czech capital, said the news about the morality police murdering a woman just because of her hijab came as a shock.

"She was a normal girl and they arrested her and brought her to the police and then after two days, she died. I cannot understand what happened. Just because of hijab? I cannot accept it."

In Iran, special police units patrol the streets to ensure respect for Iranian laws, which are founded on the Sharia Islamic canonical law, the BBC reports. These require women to cover their hair with a hijab, and disguise their figure with loose-fitting clothes. Amini allegedly did not have her headscarf properly in place.

When the protests began, Yeganeh, knew right away that something bigger was at play, describing the situation as "a fire in a TNT storage." She said that protestors are now fighting not only for women's rights but against censorship, poverty, and systematic corruption.

The protests, which reached their 13th night on Wednesday, according to AFP, have seen dozens of casualties so far. More than 1,200 people have been arrested, including lawyers, activists, and journalists, as of this Monday. 

The police command in Tehran blamed "the enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran and some rioters seeking to disrupt the order, security, and comfort of the nation" for the unrest, according to the Fars news agency.

Since Amini's death, groups of protesters have been gathering in Prague's Wenceslas Square throughout the week with some women cutting their hair off in public – a gesture that has become symbolic of the opposition against Iran's dress and modesty code for women.

Yeganeh has also been among protestors outside of Prague's UN offices and the Iranian Embassy. She said a large turnout is expected for Saturday's demonstration which will begin with speeches that call for the end of mandatory veiling laws, arrests, and unlawful killings.

"We want to support Iranian protesters and amplify their call for freedom around the world," said Yeganeh.

Like previous protests, Saturday's event will take place on Wenceslas Square. The Czech arm of Amnesty International will attend as well as Ukrainian refugees and other communities oppressed by similar regimes.

When asked what it's like for her as an Iranian woman living in Prague, Yeganeh says Czechs have been supportive. "In general the Czech Republic is a peaceful country and Czech people are open-minded and have a good political vision. I love the Czech Republic."

Despite this, she says police will be on hand at Saturday's protest. She adds that some students who attend the rally will likely conceal their identity for fear of repercussions when they return home.

Yeganeh said it's important for the world to know that Amini's murder wasn't an accident and that the protests aren't about chaos and anarchy but about ending corruption and brutality.

"Now it's time for a change," she said.

The "Gathering for Change" will feature performances, speeches, and an open mic, on Saturday, Oct. 1 from 3 p.m. See the Facebook page for the event here.

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