Mahsa "Jina" Amini became a martyr last year in the fight for increased women's rights in Iran. Her memory lives on for Iranian Americans in Arizona.
On Sept. 13, 2022, 22-year-old Amini was arrested by Iran's morality police in Tehran for wearing an "improper hijab." Three days after her arrest, Amini died in police custody. Iranian officials said the cause of death was a heart attack. However, according to a United Nations report, witnesses said Amini was severely beaten by Iranian law enforcement during her three day stay at a detention center. This incident of brutality is not uncommon in Iran in the present day.
On Sept. 13, local Iranian Americans gathered at Provision Coffee in Phoenix for the "Women Life Freedom Art Exhibition and Remembrance" event. Anisa Afkhami, the president of the Iranian Student Association and advocate for the Women Life Freedom movement, was at the event and has been supporting women's rights causes for over a year.
"There are no set rules as to how to wear your hijab. Sometimes you can wear it over your head and show your hair, sometimes you have to cover your bangs," Afkhami said. "It just depends on the morality police – if the police want to bother you, they'll find a way to bother you."
Nazanin Mirzaii, an Iranian artist who creates art inspired by her home country, said the spontaneous police brutality experienced by women makes her afraid to go back to Iran.
"I'll go back and visit my family, and then whatever happens to me happens to me, right?" Mirzaii said.
Afkhami said the internet in Iran is shut down during major protests, and any videos or news reports do not make it out of the country.
"We're saying to please do not be oblivious and just easily be manipulated by certain articles or certain things. Do further research because that's how they manipulate the public," Afkhami said.
Arizona Rep. Laura Terech, D-Scottsdale, aided in passing the Proclamation in Support of the Brave Citizens of Iran, which was joined by the State House of Representatives in condemning the Iranian government's actions and supporting the protests in Jan. 2023.
"I think we can all be united in standing up and saying that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," Terech said in a speech at the event.
Although there has been recognition of the injustice committed against Mahsa Amini in Arizona, protesters' voices are not being heard in Iran, according to Mirzaii.
"You can raise your voice, you can talk, rally, and then go back to the country and you cannot do any of this. And now you feel like you're choking, right?" Mirzaii said.
The protests that responded to Amini's death garnered support to stop violence against women on a global scale.
"It can be really difficult to maintain hope and optimism and the strength to carry on through this enormous struggle," Terech said in a speech at the event. "But we do so in community and in partnership, and in sisterhood, no matter what our backgrounds are or where we come from."
Afkhami said Amini is an icon and is just one of many women who have been victimized by the brutality.
"She is the woman behind billions of others that died within these 45 years and their voices were never echoed," Afkhami said.
Edited by Shane Brennan, Sadie Buggle and Caera Learmonth.