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EDITORIAL: It is too early to predict that Iran is due for a political change, but what has happened on its streets over the last 10 days is perhaps unprecedented since the advent of the Islamic Revolution in early 1980s. There are widespread riots in the wake of suspected killing of Mahsa Amini, 22, in detention of morality police for allegedly breaching Iran’s rules on hijab, and the government has reacted very sternly.

According to Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR), 76 people have been killed in the ongoing crackdown on protestors as the women among them threw their hijabs into bonfires across the country. And over 1200 protestors have been taken into custody. Rioters have reportedly attacked government buildings and damaged public property and caused injuries to law-enforcement personnel by pelting them with stones.

But the purported severity of the crackdown remains intact, eliciting a call for soft-handling of rioters even by ultra-conservative cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani. ‘’The leaders must listen to the demands of the people and show sensitivity to their rights,’’ he reportedly said. There is, however, no response on the part of authorities to his call; the authorities, on the other hand, are hunting down the suspected instigators of violent riots and peaceful protests.

For instance, the Tasnim news agency published photos of about 20 ‘’riot leaders’’, including several women, in the holy city of Qum and on behalf of military authorities called on citizens to identify them and inform the authorities.

While the anti-hijab riots have been widely reported worldwide, the international reaction to it is quite selective. Germany summoned the Iranian ambassador, a day after the European Union protested what it called ‘’widespread and disproportionate use of force’’ and Tehran summoned the British and Norwegian envoys. And to the Iranian rulers’ great satisfaction there is not much negative reaction in Muslim countries to its harsh treatment of anti-hijab protestors. Most likely, the Muslim countries’ governments take the riots in Iran as an internal matter of the Islamic republic.

And that is perhaps a huge amiss on their part because when Iranian protestors tag-line ‘’Women, Life, Freedom’’ they warn the governments of the Islamic world that the day is not too far when they would be rocked by such protests. This is the age of globalization, as thanks to connectivity courtesy the Information Technology, the people are inter-connected all over the world and share each other’s cultural values. Not that rulers in Tehran are absolutely wrong in maltreating the anti-hijab protestors, but the way they have gone about it is not justifiable.

The best that should have happened – and it did happen partly as there were also pro-hijab rallies – was to hold an open inquiry into the circumstances in which Amini lost her life. As widely reported by independent media she died of hurt caused to her during detention and not of heart attack as claimed by the government.

But Tehran saw, wrongly, a foreign hand in fomenting protests in Iran. Of course there are anti-Ayatollah Ali Khamenei groups based in Europe and her death allegedly at the hands of morality police is the much wanted ploy to win an advantage over the government, which they did. But the ball is still in the government’s court; it must play it by holding an impartial inquiry into the cause of her death in line with justice that must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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