Manitoba Iranian community protests death of young woman in police custody in Iran

Winnipeg's Iranian community gathered at the legislative grounds Sunday evening to raise awareness about the case of a young woman in Iran who died in custody after she was arrested, reportedly after morality police found fault with her headscarf.

Police detained 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after reportedly taking issue with her hijab

Around 60 people from Winnipeg's Iranian community gathered at the legislative grounds on Sunday evening to raise awareness about the death of a young woman (pictured on poster) while in Iranian police custody. Mahsa Amini was reportedly arrested for not wearing a headscarf properly. (Jenn Allen/CBC)

Winnipeg's Iranian community rallied at the legislative grounds Sunday evening to bring awareness to the death of a young woman who was arrested in Iran after police reportedly took issue with her headscarf.

Headscarves have been compulsory for all women in Iran — regardless of creed — since the 1979 revolution. This is enforced, sometimes violently, by the country's morality police.

State police have said that Mahsa Amini, 22, was arrested on Sept. 13 for having part of her hair uncovered. She later died in a hospital after what police said was a heart attack.

Arian Arianpour, who helped organize the rally, doesn't think Iranians are going to get straight answers from the Islamic Republic about what really happened to Amini.

"The details matter, but what matters more is that this should not happen. Not one person on the face of this earth has the right to tell a woman what to wear or what to do," Arianpour said.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has ordered an investigation into her death. Amini's family members are quoted on pro-reform news websites as saying the young woman had no history of heart disease.

Saeideh Mirzaei, one of the organizers of the rally Sunday, says it's bittersweet to be safe and sound in Canada while her loved ones in Iran live under the Islamic Republic regime. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

One rally participant, whom the CBC is not naming because she plans to return to Iran and fears for her safety, said many Iranian women have been punished for not following the compulsory hijab and modesty laws under the Islamic Republic's regime.

"You're a woman. You have hair. You can't help it. They cannot take something that is natural from you. Something such as your hair, your body — whoever you are, they cannot take it from you, and they want to do that," she said.

The university student is in Canada to complete her master's degree, and has been in contact with loved ones back home.

"I feel at least like I [got to] somehow run away. But they're there, and I'm not happy all the time because I think about them, and I think about my land as someplace taken away from me," she said.

Rally co-organizer Saeideh Mirzaei wants Canadians to understand what it's like to live under an oppressive regime. 

"Imagine people come to you and say to you: why do you wear these clothes? Why is your scarf loose? And then they arrest you," Mirzaei said.

The whole country is in mourning, she said.

Iranian police fired tear gas on Saturday to disperse protesters who gathered at Amini's funeral in Saqez, her Kurdistan hometown.

Mirzaei said it's bittersweet to be able to live freely in Canada while her loved ones and family back home cannot.

"We are here because of a better life, but this doesn't mean that we forget what is happening there," she said.

Arianpour wants people to understand that most Iranians are secular and do not hold the same beliefs as the Islamic Republic.

"I would like everybody to study, if they can, what Persia has been, what Iran was before the revolution, and what Iranians today are doing and have been doing for four decades."