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Behind the Veil: Adnan Zai Discusses the Anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s Tragic Death

Adnan Zai, Advisor to Berkeley Capital Beachwood, sat down recently to discuss the somber anniversary in Iran, where thousands of people are commemorating the death of Mahsa Amini, the Kurdish woman who died in police custody last year after being arrested for dress code violations concerning her hijab. As an international businessman and the father of two daughters, he is appalled by the way women have been historically treated in Iran and wanted to shed some light on this monumental anniversary event.

Mary Kraven: The people of Iran are commemorating the one-year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish woman who was arrested last year by the Iranian morality police for not following the mandatory dress code of wearing her hijab the correct way. Subsequently, she died in police custody on September 16, 2022 under suspicious circumstances. Her death sparked outrage in the country, and more than 500 people were killed in protests following her death, and this includes 71 minors who died in the protests. In addition to that, hundreds of other people were wounded, along with thousands of people arrested.

What do you make of the outrage over the death of one woman who did not wear her hijab correctly?

Adnan Zai: In many ways, it seems like the death of Amini was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Iranian people, especially women, have been oppressed for centuries, and enough is enough. To lose her life over a veil is an unthinkable tragedy, and the voices of the young people fighting for justice are finally being heard.

Mary Kraven: According to the BBC, the uprising, led by women, was the most serious challenge to Iran’s theocratic regime since the revolution of 1979. With 20,000 Iranians arrested, there were likely more unthinkable atrocities that took place in jail. Although the protests died down after a few months, the people are still angry, and their anger is on a slow simmer. This has led many women to speak out against the regime and to break laws that the leaders have always held sacred.

The BBC reports that “A Western diplomat in Tehran estimates that across the country, an average of about 20% of women are now breaking the laws of the Islamic Republic by going out on to the streets without the veil.”

Why do you think this is happening now?

Adnan Zai: With the internet fueling communication around the world, no country can stand alone. And with these outside influences comes the realization for Iranian women that other women across the globe have more rights and freedoms than they do. This knowledge fuels the fire, and women are getting bold enough to finally stand up for what is right in their country. The anniversary of Amini’s death is a good reminder to keep up the fight.

Mary Kraven: Yes, I would agree with that, as women are just brazenly not following the clothing rules. “Currently women without the veil risk a 5,000-500,000 rial [$0.12-$11.83] fine or a prison spell of between 10 days and two months.”  And the authorities are trying to crack down. One woman, “Bahareh”, 32, says she’s “already received three text warnings on her phone from the authorities, after being captured on CCTV driving in Tehran without the veil. She says if they catch her again they might impound her car.”

Adnan Zai: With so many people acting out against the regime, it has become much more difficult for the authorities to police things. They have turned to technology themselves to help catch those who are not obeying the rules of dress, but it is still an overwhelming job.

Mary Kraven: Speaking of police, Iranian officials tightened security in Amini’s hometown of Saqqez for the anniversary of her death. Officials even disrupted the internet around this time to prevent people from communicating about plans for honoring the anniversary. Amini’s father, Amjad Amini was detained and warned against marking the anniversary of his daughter’s death when he and his family tried to offer typical religious services and remembrances for her.  Amini was told at the Intelligence Department that “the family ‘do not have the right’ to leave the house and go to the grave, and they should not participate in the anniversary ceremony, which they had announced in a previous statement.”

Even with these difficulties, Amini’s mother issued a statement saying that although the past year had been full of sadness and sorrow she wanted to thank everyone who had sent “messages of love and comfort to our grieving hearts”.

Adnan Zai: As a parent, I simply cannot fathom the depth of her grief at the loss of her daughter. But Amini’s death has truly been the catalyst for something bigger than herself.

The country has rallied around her parents, as her father claimed she died at the hands of the “morality police” in the detention center. The government, for their part, said she had a pre-existing neurological condition that caused her death. The support of the young women who are speaking out in her name, as well as the kind messages sent to her parents, are surely helping her parents through this nightmare.

Mary Kraven: The support for the situation and for her family extends past the borders of Iran. The US president, Joe Biden, and his wife, Jill, issued a statement saying Amini’s story “did not end with her brutal death. She inspired a historic movement – Woman, Life, Freedom – that has impacted Iran and influenced people across the globe who are tirelessly advocating for gender equality and respect for their human rights.”

Adnan Zai: In many countries, gender equality is still a hot button issue, and many young women do not have the freedoms and the equality that my own daughters have. Our president should speak out about this, in hopes that young women across the globe will gain more freedom.

Mary Kraven: There are many people working for justice, and they continue to speak out.  Amnesty Iran said: “Instead of abolishing discriminatory compulsory veiling laws, Iranian authorities have waged an all-out assault on women’s rights, unlawfully killed hundreds and tortured thousands.”

Adnan Zai: The authorities in Iran seem to be overstepping their bounds. That is why there is such a global response. There were commemorative protests for Aminia in cities in the west, including the countries of Canada, Germany, Australia, and the UK.

Mary Kraven: The story has certainly sparked interest around the world, and many young people are ensuring that Amini did not die in vain. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Adnan Zai. Let’s hope that all young women may soon have the freedom to dress how they wish and that no more tragedies like this one will occur.

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