Alli, an Iranian MBA student attending VIU stands behind a table outside the campus library in Nanaimo. Melted wax candles dot the table’s surface in memorial.
“How can I live in this beautiful country when my brother and sister are being killed?” he says. “There is a sense of feeling guilty when I am here while my family lives in tough situations.”
Several other Iranian students stand with Alli, speaking to students who pass by. One reaches down and lights a candle on the table and adjusts a framed photograph of a young woman.
The woman in the photo is Mahsa Amini, who died on September 16 after spending three days in a coma.
Amini, a twenty-two-year-old from Kurdistan Province, Iran, was visiting Tehran with her family when the country’s so-called morality police accused her of wearing her hijab incorrectly and arrested her. She was in a coma several hours later. Police blamed a stroke, but witnesses say she was killed by blows to the head when being detained.
I am left hollow after hearing Amini’s story. Like most of the world, she was unknown to me a short time ago. But, like me, she was a young woman with ambitions and dreams. She was a daughter, a sister, and a friend. Amini was a human being, and that is enough.
Crowds have risen in the streets of Iran in protest for Amini. Women are taking off their hijabs and burning them.
At the table outside the library, I spoke to another student, Pegah, about the protests.
“I am so damn proud of every Iranian woman,” she said. “They are the bravest.”
Taking off the hijab—let alone burning it—is punishable by death. But they stand unafraid because they know that they are fighting for something greater than themselves.
The Iranian government has since shut down social media apps like WhatsApp and Instagram in an attempt to censor and control. VIU students who call Iran home are losing ways to communicate with their loved ones and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Thankfully, there are still ways to help.
Student Pouya Nejat Pour puts it simply: “Raise awareness.”
Remember the name: Mahsa Amini. Use your voice and speak it.
Do not let her story vanish into yesterday’s news.