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Kaua‘i community stands with Iranian demonstrators

KAPA‘A — In September, 21-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini died in custody after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for wearing her hijab improperly.

Her death, most likely a result of police brutality, sparked a wave of protests across the nation and world in opposition to Iran’s authoritarian Islamic Republic regime.

The protests reached Kaua‘i on Saturday, as a group of community members gathered in Kapa‘a on International Human Rights Day to show solidarity with the Iranian demonstrators.

Cars slowed and motorists honked in support of demonstrators holding signs reading “Democracy for Iran,” and “Women, Life, Freedom.” One man joined in by flying a flag in the red, white, and green colors of the Middle Eastern nation high above the protesters.

Organizer Shirin Hunt was 11 years old when the 1979 Iranian Revolution ousted U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and installed the theocratic Islamic Republic that rules to this day.

“I saw the oppression first hand,” Hunt said. “I was in a very free realm of schooling. Our school was boys and girls mixed. As soon as the revolution happened, they separated us and forced us to wear the hijab.”

“You’d be running in the backyard of the school playing, and all of a sudden there would be a big stick hitting you because your scarf has fallen a little bit.”

She escaped the country with her mother two years later and has been a longtime Kaua‘i resident, but still has strong family ties to her country of origin.

“We’re just bringing attention to what’s going on in Iran, which is a revolution,” said Hunt. “It’s the first women-led revolution.”

“It’s really important to be their voice. We get to be in sunny Kaua‘i and stand and smile and get honks and they’re getting bullets.”

The Islamic Republic, led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has brutally repressed protests, shutting off internet and mobile networks, initiating mass arrests, and executing demonstrators. Two men have been hanged in the past week for alleged protest crimes, after show trials.

Shirin’s brother Kamran Taleb also grew up in Iran and witnessed the effects of the 1979 revolution.

“Before the (1979) revolution there was injustice, there was corruption — but not anything like this,” said Taleb. “It was supposed to be a peoples revolution, but it just became the clergy.”

Now he sees the nation as one that has been pushed to its breaking point by injustice.

“There’s no jobs. Money is worthless. Everything costs an arm and a leg,” said Taleb.

While there have been a series of unsuccessful uprisings since the 1979
revolution, Taleb was
optimistic about this movement succeeding where others have failed.

“There’s no turning back,” he said. “They’re going to get their country back.”

Addressing injustice in a foreign country is difficult, especially a country like Iran, where the United States has had a fraught history. In 1953, the U.S. and British governments backed the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected prime minister in order to strengthen the monarchy of the Shah, who was more favorable to Western business interests. Since the 1979 revolution, the primary tool the United States has used to impose their will on Iran has been sanctions.

Mehrnoush Yazdanyar, an Iranian American attorney specializing in sanctions law, questioned the effectiveness of the United States’ current sanction regime at the Saturday rally.

“One of the biggest issues is that the people protesting don’t have economic power,” said Yazdanyar. “The United States has played a huge role in this. We’ve done crippling sanctions that have hurt their economy. It didn’t really affect the people in power — they moved their assets abroad.”

The 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal lifted many of the most severe sanctions in exchange for Iran stopping their nuclear weapons program. But they were reimposed when then-President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018. Human Rights Watch released a report in 2019 showing that U.S. sanctions limited Iranians’ access to necessary medicine.

Yazdanyar said that, unless there is a full understanding of the country being sanctioned, it is impossible to implement sanctions that target the leaders without harming the people.

“People in my own community are like ‘more sanctions, more sanctions,’” said Yazdanyar. “They barely can eat. It’s important to think twice before taking action.”

Yazdanyar said she is proud of the current movement and the global attention it is drawing.

“Everyone now associates Iranian women with strength, with perseverance, with power,” she said. “And that is beautiful.”

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Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-0329 or gscrimgeour@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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