“Women, life and freedom.”
That was the message of a vigil held Thursday at the Alder Amphitheater in honor of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died on Sept. 16 while in custody of the country’s morality police.
Police arrested Amini for allegedly not wearing a hijab in accordance with government standards. Her death, which police claimed happened because she suffered a heart attack, led to nationwide protests in Iran following reports of torture and ill-treatment during Amini’s detention.
Several groups, such as the United Nations, condemned the incident and expressed solidarity with the protestors, calling for an end to violence against women.
The vigil at the theater was no different. Members of Salt Lake Community College’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and the global connections and Kurdish student leadership clubs helped organize the event.
“This is the first step in showing support for Iranians all around the world,” Nadia Yahyapour, a former SLCC student born in Iran, said during the vigil’s opening.
Yahyapour and Dr. Kamal Bewar, the college’s student success coordinator for refugee and immigrant students, acted as key organizers of the vigil and spoke prominently throughout its duration.
Audience members, no matter their background, were invited to speak, and most who did held ties to Iran. One speaker, who wished to remain anonymous, said much of his family still resides in Iran, and he hopes to see them soon.
“Be careful of who it is you’re giving authority over your lives to,” he said, “because freedom is hard to get back once you give it away.”
Amid the protests, CNBC reported that the Iranian government began imposing internet disruptions and blocked access to WhatsApp and Instagram, two of the last remaining social media services in Iran. Twitter and Facebook, according to The New York Times, have been banned in Iran since 2009.
“Women are leaders – they’re caretakers and changemakers,” said Mojdeh Sakaki, a native of Iran and program manager for the college’s departments of interior design and fashion.
Sakaki, who has worked at the college for 23 years, addressed the vigil’s modest turnout, saying she would have liked to see more support from colleagues.
Following words from those who decided to share, Yahyapour concluded the vigil by asking audience members to use knowledge gained from the vigil, and whatever else may come, to make positive change.
“When it matters the most, come together, unite and show support to your fellow human beings,” she said. “That’s all we have in this world.”