BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Hundreds gathered at UC Berkeley Friday night for a candlelight vigil, as protests erupt throughout Iran and around the world over the death of Mahsa Amini.
"A life was taken from parents for a headscarf. No words. I have no words." says Iranian-American, Tara Kermanshahi, who lives in Pinole. "We have to come out and support her. We have to support her family. We are Mahsa!"
The 22-year old Amini was supposedly detained for failing to properly wear her hijab, part of Iran's strict public dress code. She is said to have died a few days later on September 16, while in police custody, though police haven't given a formal explanation.
There are allegations that Amini's was beaten during her detention, which led to her death.
Iran's President, Ebrahim Raisi, told a news conference at the U.N. meeting of the General Assembly in New York, that her death will be investigated.
"One of the main demands is, 'Zan. Zindagi. Azadi.' Which is, 'Women. Life. Freedom."' says Hoda Katebi, a UC Berkeley Law student and community organizer. She just returned from a summer in Iran.
Katebi says U.S. sanctions, which have been in place since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, mainly hurt ordinary Iranians. She says the sanctions are then used by Iranian authorities to justify increased domestic repression.
"I think what a lot of people in the United States fail to recognize is actually the role that the Unites States has in encouraging and emboldening the hardliners in Iran, to be able to be even more repressive against Iranian people on the ground," she explains.
Compulsory hijab in Iran was imposed in 1983, four years after the revolution. Some analysts suggest it has been used as a way to control a population, which even then, was growing restless from Western sanctions. Opposition to the headscarf is on a long list of public grievances.
"People are tired of not having a government that represents them. That they get to choose. They are tired of compulsion," explains Hasti Mofidi, one of the organizers of the Berkeley vigil.
People carried signs that read "No To Compulsory Hijab" and signs with Amini's photos.
Many foreign policy experts argue that relaxing laws on hijab worries Iran's top brass because it could trigger a domino effect for more demands, even though it has support from some in Iran's ruling clerical class.
Throughout several days of protest in Iran, women have burned their headscarf and cut their hair as a form of protest.
As Katebi puts it, "This is not to be seen as an act that is against Islam, but an act against state co-optation of religion, that have used symbols to force people to dress in a certain way. And so, this is a response to state violence."
Whether this will stay as a protest, in part, for women's rights and against of Iran's dress code, or grow into a larger anti-government movement, is yet to be seen. But Katebi says, even if Iran's laws don't change, Iran's women have.
"What is especially beautiful about what is happening right now in Iran, is that women are being centered in the movement for progress. Kurdish women are being centered in this movement We see a breaking of barriers between ethnic minorities, we see a breakdown of barriers between class," she says.
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