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Content warning: This article contains descriptions of violence against women

Roughly 150 members of the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor Iranian communities gathered on the Diag Saturday for a vigil held in memory of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died on Sept. 16 while in custody of the morality police of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Amini’s death sparked protests against police brutality across Iran and around the world. In Ann Arbor, attendees held photos of Amini, chanted slogans in Farsi, the official language of Iran, and demanded an expansion of Iranian women’s rights. 

Amini was arrested in Tehran after being accused of not properly covering her hair with a hijab and was subsequently taken to a “re-education center,” where people are taken if they fail to comply with the Islamic Republic’s rules of modesty. According to Amini’s family, the police mistreated Amini by allegedly beating her, which caused her to fall into a coma and subsequently die.

Thousands of Iranians across several major cities took to the streets after a photo and video of Amini lying unconscious in a hospital bed with severe injuries began circulating on social media. The protesters are demanding an end to violence against women and to lift the mandate requiring that all women wear hijabs. As of Sunday, at least 41 people have been killed during the protests.

Saturday in Ann Arbor, a student at the University addressed the crowd, decrying the circumstances surrounding Amini’s death. The student requested to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation from the Iranian government and will be referred to in this article as Alex. 

“They murdered her for a piece of cloth around her head,” Alex said. “This is not moral, and her death was unjust. She was only 22 years old. We are here to stand in solidarity with all the people in Iran protesting.”

Attendees chalked the names of protestors who lost their lives to this cause on the ground of the Diag and chanted “Jin-Jiyan-Azadi,” which translates to “Women, Life, Freedom.” Revolutionary poems, chants and songs, such as “Yare Dabestanie Man” — translated as “My School Friend” —  were played as attendees sang along. Many of the attendees wore masks to protect their identity and asked not to be photographed or interviewed for fear of retaliation from the Iranian government if they were to visit Iran in the future. 

In the days following Amini’s death, the Iranian government blocked Internet services such as Instagram and Whatsapp to stop people from organizing and sharing videos of protests. LSA freshman Berelian Karimian said that, due to this censorship, vigils are an important way to raise international awareness about the government’s crimes. 

“We need to get international support,” Karimian said. “We need to make sure this does not fly by because things like this happen all the time in Iran. Mahsa is not the only one out there.”

Karimian is Iranian and said she came to the vigil because she sympathized with Amini’s story.

“It’s my people, this could have been me,” Karimian said. “This could have been my family. It’s an injustice, and injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.”

Mohammed, a senior at U-M Dearborn who lived in Iran for 21 years and asked The Daily to refrain from including their last name also due to fear of retaliation from the Iranian government, recalled a frightening personal encounter with the morality police.

“I’ve been there, and I know how miserable people are due to (lack of) basic human rights,” Mohammed said. “I wanted to get involved and support my people today.”

Mohammed asked attendees to use their voices to promote the cause of Iranians protesting the morality police.

“People need your voice in helping raise awareness,” Mohammed said. “People are not expecting you to do something crazy or big, just be our voice. Like Ukraine, like all the other issues around the world where people were united and protested, just do the same for Iranian people. It’s like a revolution. Help us, please.”

Daily Staff Reporter Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at varshakv@umich.edu.