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EDITORIAL: It’s been nearly a month-and-a half since a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, was arrested in Tehran by the morality police for not properly covering her head and died in custody three days later, sparking widespread protests, mostly led by women who burned their headscarves in an act of defiance. When the regular police failed to control the situation a paramilitary force, the Basji, was sent in to assist them.

According to media reports, an estimated over 200 people have been killed in these protests. Still, the authorities are struggling to maintain order.

On Wednesday, long columns of people in cars, on motorbikes and on foot made their way into Amini’s hometown, Saqez, to pay her tribute at the end of the traditional 40-day mourning period.

A picture has gone viral on social media that shows a young woman standing on the roof of a car with her uncovered hair let loose looking into a highway packed with mourners. If a Norway-based group that monitors rights violations in Iran’s Kurdish region is to be believed, security forces shot tear gas and also opened fire on people gathered in Saqez city’s Zindan Square, though, it did not mention whether there were any casualties.

The young Kurdish woman’s custodial death is deeply disturbing for people everywhere. The ensuing crackdown on protesters has further aggravated the situation. The state media accuses US-led Western powers of fuelling trouble to bring about regime change. Under different circumstances that would not be an entirely baseless claim. It is no secret that such efforts have been made in the past, and may still persist. In fact only a couple of weeks ago, at a seminar organised by “The National Council of Resistance of Iran”, several former US officials, among them the then national security adviser John Bolton under president Donald Trump and an unabashed advocate of regime change in countries uncontrollable by the US, expressed that desire.

Bolton said that there will be no peace or security if the present Iranian regime remains in power, adding that “the key is the Iranian people, who are a threat to the regime.” But be that as it may, no one could have foreseen what happened to Amini and plotted to use it for their purposes. Protests, it appears, erupted spontaneously in a genuine outpouring of public outrage, which could have been handled better by holding the suspects to account; use of force has only been making a bad situation worse.

Drawing lesson from the country’s own history, leadership of the post-revolution Islamic Republic has evolved an extremely centralised system of governance. This is why it has lasted so long and is likely to stay on for the foreseeable future. It is in its own interest, nevertheless, to heed the advice of respected religious figures within its own ranks, like Ayatollah Hussein Nouri Hamedani, who has been quoted as saying “the leaders must listen to the demands of the people, resolve their problems, and show sensitivity to their rights.”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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