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From Tehran to Los Angeles, the death of an Iranian woman sparks a feminist outcry

Summer Lin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — Newsha Niazmandi was born and raised in Iran and moved to the U.S. when she was 17 years old. In recent days, her thoughts have focused on another young woman who lived in Iran — and whose death has touched a global nerve.

Mahsa Amini, 22, died last week after she was detained by Tehran’s morality police, accused of not wearing her hijab properly. Days of street protests in numerous Iranian cities have turned deadly as protesters have burned their headscarves and cut off their hair in defiance of strict dress codes.

“It’s a matter of feminism. Everyone should understand that women are fighting for their freedom,” said Niazmandi, one of hundreds of protesters who gathered outside the Wilshire Federal Building in Westwood on Wednesday night.

“They’re going down the street trying to protest, and they’re being shot down,” she said of people in Iran. “If you see the videos over there, they don’t care if you’re a woman or not; they don’t care if you have a hijab — they just want to crush you down.”

The hijab, a head covering worn by some Muslim women, has been mandatory in Iran since the 1979 revolution. The United Nations Human Rights Council says that Iran’s morality police have been cracking down on women they accuse of not wearing the hijab properly, the Associated Press reported.

According to the U.N. body, videos have surfaced showing women being hit with batons, thrown into police vans and slapped in the face for not completely covering their hair.

 

Amini was born in Saqqez in western Iran and was traveling to Tehran with her family when she was arrested Sept. 13. She died three days later. Police have denied that Amini was mistreated and say she died of a heart attack, while her family has said she didn’t have a heart condition and was healthy, several media outlets have reported.

Independent experts connected with the U.N. have said Amini was beaten by the morality police, but haven’t provided evidence. The U.N. human rights office has called for an investigation into her death.

“Iran’s security forces will continue to feel emboldened to kill or injure protesters and prisoners, including women arrested for defying abusive compulsory veiling laws, if they are not held accountable,” said Diana Eltahawy, Middle East deputy director for Amnesty International, in a statement Wednesday.

Los Angeles is home to the most people of Iranian descent outside Iran. Many live in Tehrangeles, a Persian enclave in Westwood that began in the 1960s and boomed after the 1979 revolution. There were 87,000 people of Iranian ancestry in the city in 2019, according to Census Bureau figures.

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