Editor's Note: The names of individuals interviewed for this story have been changed to protect their identities, and verified through fact-checking, all of the anonymous individuals interviewed for this story are Penn State students.
Chants, singing and crying echoed in front of the Palmer Museum of Art as Penn State’s Iranian community gathered Thursday evening in remembrance of Mahsa Amini.
Amini was a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died in police custody last week after being arrested for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly, according to the Associated Press. Amini’s death sparked protests around the world and prompted criticisms of the current Islamic Republic of Iran, according to the AP.
Adel, who wishes to remain anonymous for his own safety, said he hasn’t been in contact with his family ever since the Iranian government imposed a nationwide internet shutdown a couple of days ago.
“We, as Iranians, are concerned about our families, our friends and our loved ones in Iran because most of them were part of the protests. I saw my friends that are here as students and faculty and staff are [also] struggling with this but it wasn’t recognized by the university because nobody cares,” Adel said.
Adel said the Iranian “hijab law” that requires women to conceal their head, neck and hair has sparked resistance in the country over the year ever since it went into effect.
“We had several events happening because of the rules and regulations that we have in Iran for women before, and I believe [Amini’s death] was the trigger for everyone to start a protest, and start to inform everyone in the world that there is a problem in Iran and it needs to be solved,” he said.
Adel said there are roughly 300 people from Iran at Penn State who are students, faculty, staff or family members. He said the university can at least address the problem.
“First of all, [the problem] needs to be acknowledged [so] people can know where Iran is, who Iranians are and what their struggles are," Adel said. "It will be difficult for us to act normal, smile and work as we always do, so we want other people to be considerate about that. And if we are thinking of inclusion and belonging for everyone, Iranians are also included and they belong to this community, so it needs to be acknowledged.”
Farah was among almost 100 people who came to the protest Thursday evening. Farah said she wanted to show solidarity with the people in Iran and ask for justice in a country where justice “hasn’t happened in the past decades.”
“We also want to mourn the death of yet another Iranian youth who was murdered in the custody of the morality police, so we are gathered here together because we couldn’t be there with [Amini’s] family,” Farah said.
Farah said she wanted to be Amini’s voice so “her name is not forgotten.”
“Just like any victim of cruelty and injustice, we want to repeat her name so her story is not forgotten,” she said. “And hopefully her story can lead to change.”
By being at the protest, Farah wanted to raise awareness and send a message to the rest of the world about “one of the biggest fights for women’s rights.”
“This is as much about women’s rights as any other fight around the world, and we also want people to start researching this. The more people know about this, the less they can hide the atrocities that are happening,” Farah said. “They have chased us out of that country.”
Protester Jaleh echoed Farah’s sentiments.
“I feel like the world needs to know what is happening in Iran because it seems that we are the only media that we have,” Jaleh said.
Jaleh said she was once arrested before her flight to America for letting her hijab fall off. However, her incident is not uncommon in Iran.
“Every woman you see here tonight has been captured at least one time by the police of Iran because they were not wearing their hijab properly. I want [people] to know that there is a spot in the world called Iran [and] there is a regime that is butchering people in the streets because they simply want to choose what to wear,” Jaleh said. “So cherish the democracy that you have and never let something like this happen to your countries because democracy is the best thing that you can have as a society.”
Leila, who wished to remain anonymous for her safety, said she's been researching the Iranian government’s restriction on its citizens’ freedom of speech, one of which is through Meta.
Leila said she found out that Meta has been suspending its users’ Facebook and Twitter accounts registered under Iranian numbers. However, protesters didn’t think the Iranian government would stop there.
“Despite the importance of this incident, and several people that have been shot, and several people that have been killed. I think there is not enough coverage of these events compared to other similar events from around the world,” Hassan said.
Hassan said he believes the laws and regulations in place in Iran are “irrational” and “completely insane.”
“Recently, the current president of Iran was going to have an interview with CNN, and the host was asked to wear a hijab in New York. And this is all while he claims to be standing for women’s rights [and] protecting and preserving their rights,” Hassan said. “Everyone has to wear a hijab despite their beliefs, and that’s the problem.”
Hassan said he also thinks the least Penn State can do is raise “some sort of awareness.”
“I think at least the university can have a basic coverage of this event and this brutality that is going on in Iran even if they don’t want to make it political,” Hassan said. “[Even if] they don’t want to cover all the activities or misconduct that are happening in Iran, they can at least cover the murder of Mahsa Amini which is the most recent brutal and inhumane act by Iranian so-called morality police.”
Explaining her and other protesters’ reasons for their anonymity, Farah said she was “terrified” of the Iranian government and its capability.
“Because these are violent, psychopathic bullies, so there’s no saying what they will do. There’s no saying what will happen to me, there’s no saying what will happen to my family,” Farah said. “We want to protest smart and we don’t want more victims. We just want change.”
Farah said by being at the protest, she risks getting stopped at the airports when she wants to go home because “there’s no line they won’t cross.” However, that won’t stop her from continuing to fight for justice and change.
“We will speak up and we will be smart about speaking up. And hopefully, our voices will be heard,” Farah said. “Because regardless of who I am, because whatever my name is, today I am Mahsa Amini. Today, everybody here is Mahsa Amini.”
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