The acrid smell of burning polyester filled the air. A flame that started small quickly ignited into a ball of heat and light, consuming an ornate headscarf as a crowd cheered on.
One hundred people gathered at The Fountain Steps on Saturday, November 19, for a demo to remember Mahsa Amini, and others killed in protests in Iran since the death of the 22-year-old Kurd at the hands of the police.
Amini’s death sparked mass protests which spread across Iran and the puritanical regime of the Islamic Republic. Central to the protests are demands for women’s rights, presently denied.
There have been solidarity protests around the world, including here in Bristol. The burning of headscarves and the cutting of hair are common refrains of the protests and Saturday’s was no exception.
Samira, 37, a PhD student from Iran who has lived in the UK since 2010, immolated a headscarf in front of the cheering crowd.
The scarf is a symbol of government suppression, said Samira. Setting it on fire is ‘expressing the anger, saying no,’ she said.
Amini was arrested while on holiday in Tehran. She was accused of not wearing her hijab correctly. Witnesses of her arrest say she was beaten by the police, an allegation the police deny.
‘What happened with that young lady who got killed and started all these protests, she was just not wearing the headscarf good enough. It just wasn’t covering enough of her that the police wanted,’ said Samira.
She continued: ’Whenever they want people to shut up, they find that excuse. Hijab is an excuse.’
Samira’s family all live in Iran, although she has not visited since 2019, and she fears for them.
‘She [Mahsa Amini] was from the part of Iran that I am from and she looks so similar, her face structure, the bones, looks so much like my cousins and it could be one of them.’
According to Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA), 45 boys and 12 girls under 18 have been killed by security forces since the protests began. Five children have been killed in the past ten days alone.
Those who died include the nine-year-old Kian Pirfalak, who was killed on Wednesday, November 16. Protesters say Kian was killed by police as he sat in his father’s car.
Samira said that she and others have written to the vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol for a statement of support, but the university refused on the grounds that it is ‘a political issue,’ said Samira.
She called on others to ‘be the voice of Iran,’ and said that people watching the protests need to become more politically active.
‘People have started to find politics and world affairs irrelevant and once it becomes irrelevant we are in trouble.’
Did you go this protest? What did you think? Let us know in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org.