Who Was Mahsa Amini?

In September 2022, the Union of Islamic Iran People's Party, a reformist party founded in 2015, called for the repeal of the mandatory Islamic dress code for women. The law was authorized in 1983 and states that all women who go out in public must wear a hijab. Those who do not adhere to the law are subjected to imprisonment for 10 days up to 2 months, or pay a fine of 50,000 up to 500,000 Iranian rials, as reported by The Cultural. The dress code applies to all women regardless of their religion, and even tourists are required to wear a hijab. Just after the law was enacted, thousands of women protested, but their cries fell on deaf ears.

Iran set up the morality police, formally known as the Guidance Patrol, to enforce the country's code of conduct, which includes the dress code. According to the Hindustan Times, many women get away with wearing tight-fitting clothing or colorful head scarves. It's a risky move, and most are able to evade the consequences. However, there are instances of crackdowns that can turn violent, especially in Iran's larger cities. The 2022 call for the change of the dress code came after the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who died of suspicious circumstances after being detained by authorities.

What happened to Mahsa Amini?

In September 2022, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, known as Jina or Zhina to her family, was visiting Iran's capital city of Tehran. The Aminis were from Saqiz, a city in the Kurdistan Province. On September 13, Mahsa was detained by the morality police at the entry of the Haqqani Highway, as they claimed she was improperly wearing her hijab, as reported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Her brother, Kiarash, followed at the police station to wait for Mahsa's release.

About a couple of hours, however, Kiarash saw an ambulance driving out of the police station. Authorities told Kiarash that his sister had to be taken to the hospital after suffering from a seizure and a heart attack while in detention (via The New Arab). The Tehran police stated that Mahsa was supposed to have a lecture about the dress code's rules along with other detained women when she suddenly collapsed. Mahsa was in a coma for three days before she died on September 16.

The events according to witness statements

The Amini family didn't believe the police department's statements regarding the circumstances of Mahsa's death. Her mother said that she was perfectly healthy before being detained, and there were several witnesses who came forward and said the young woman was beaten. Erfan Mortezaei, Mahsa's cousin, spoke about the incident to Sky News. According to him, Mahsa's brother pleaded with authorities not to take his sister, but he was pepper-sprayed. Mahsa was then placed into a van and brought to the detention center.

An unnamed witness who was in the van with Mahsa told the Amini family that the police insulted Mahsa and tortured her on the way to the police station. Another woman who was also detained told Iran International that Mahsa didn't want to get out of the van at the police station and that was when an officer hit her on the head and forced her to vacate the vehicle. The witness also shared that Mahsa repeatedly asked authorities what was wrong with her outfit, but they did not respond to her. When Mahsa collapsed, the witness said that officers didn't immediately call for medical attention, as they thought it was a ruse in order for her to get out of custody.

Conflicting medical reports

The hospital where she was brought posted a statement on Instagram that said Mahsa Amini had no vital signs when she arrived, but it was later deleted. According to them, they the young woman was resuscitated and transferred to intensive care when a heartbeat was detected, but she went into cardiac arrest three days after, per The Jerusalem Post. According to the doctors, Mahsa had a fracture to her skull, which may have resulted from severe hits on the head. Medical professionals also commented on the photos of Mahsa in the hospital that showed her bleeding from the ears, which may have been caused by head trauma.

In the first week of October, Mahsa's official medical report was released, and based on the coroner, her death "was not caused by blows to the head and vital organs and limbs of the body" (via Aljazeera). Instead, the report stated that her death was caused by "underlying diseases" that caused cerebral hypoxia, a condition where there is decreased supply of oxygen to the brain. Despite the report, about 800 Iranian doctors that are members of the country's Medical Council have voiced their displeasure about the official findings. They say that there's a coverup in regard to Mahsa's cause of death and that "the fact-finding committee was formed behind closed doors and has no credibility," as reported by Radio Free Europe.

The Amini family's statements

Mahsa Amini's mother insisted that her daughter was wearing the proper attire; she wore a hijab, a long coat, and pants when she was taken in by the police. According to The Jerusalem Post, the police told Mahsa's father, Amjad Amini, that body cameras on the officers were out of battery during the arrest, so there was no footage to confirm what happened to Mahsa from the time she was taken up to her arrival at the police station. Authorities released footage from the police station that showed a woman they claimed to be Mahsa collapsing, but the Amini family believes that the video may have been edited.

In an interview with BBC, Amjad said that he was prevented from seeing her daughter after she died. When he asked to see the autopsy report, he was told that the report had nothing to do with him. Amjad was only able to view Mahsa's body when it was being prepared for burial, but even then, he was only able to see her feet and said that he saw bruises. The family also denied the director of general forensic medicine's claims that Mahsa was in poor health and had undergone brain surgery as a child. "She never had any medical conditions, she never had surgery," Amjad said, adding that his daughter had never been admitted to a hospital all her life and only had a few visits for minor illnesses, such as colds.

Mahsa Amini's death sparked protests

Protests in different parts of Iran broke out following the news of Mahsa's death. As reported by The Hill, thousands marched down streets and demanded the government to take responsibility for the death of the young woman. Women of all ages took to the streets and burned their hijabs as a call to change laws and stop discrimination and violence toward women. Per Iran Wire, the Amini family has been receiving death threats and messages telling them not to speak about Mahsa and not to partake in anti-government protests.

The story of Mahsa's suspicious death gained international attention, and a few cities have shown their support for Iranian women. According to BuzzFeed News, large crowds attended protests in Washington D.C., Berlin, Istanbul, Tokyo, Brussels, London, Copenhagen, and Naples. United Nations experts spoke about Mahsa's death and urged Iranian officials to do an impartial and independent investigation into the matter. "Iran must repeal all legislation and policies that discriminate on the grounds of sex and gender, in line with international human rights standards," the experts stated.