“Women. Life. Freedom!”
That was the chant that reverberated throughout Scissortail Park as Oklahomans gathered Thursday to show their support for Iranians protesting the brutality and human rights violations perpetrated by Iran’s Islamic Republic.
About 350 people, most of them Iranian Americans, attended the rally in downtown Oklahoma City. Many of them carried red-white-and-green Iranian flags, while others carried American flags. Organizers said the rally was held to show solidarity with Iranians who have taken to the streets to demand justice for an Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini, 22, and to protest the injustice of Iran’s Islamic Republic.
Iran’s Islamic Republic requires women to cover up in public, including wearing a hijab or headscarf that is supposed to completely hide their hair. Amini was arrested by the Islamic Republic’s morality police in Iran’s capital of Tehran and died in September while in police custody. Iran’s government has insisted that she was not mistreated, but her family believes otherwise. Amini’s loved ones have said her body showed bruises and other signs that she had been beaten after she was detained for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.
The woman’s death has fueled demonstrations across Iran and in other major global cities. As part of their protests in Iran, many women have taken off their head scarves and burned them publicly. Iran’s Islamic Republic has met many of the demonstrations with violence, and the deaths and arrests of some protesters have been widely reported.
‘Here to echo the voice of the Iranian people’
Oklahomans who gathered Thursday said they empathized with the women and other protesters.
“We are here to echo the voice of the Iranian people that enough is enough,” Peyman Hekmatpour, University of Oklahoma graduate instructor of sociology, told the crowd.
Mehrnoush Nourbakhsh, an OU doctoral student who helped organize the rally, urged those gathered to sign online petitions against the Islamic Republic, continue demanding justice for Amini by using a hashtag that includes her name and donate to Iran-focused human rights groups. Nourbakhsh also encouraged the crowd to contact their congressional leaders, other federal officials and human rights organizations and urge them to speak out against the human rights violations perpetrated by the Islamic Republic. She also said the crowd should urge the US to stop making nuclear deals with the Islamic Republic.
“I cannot express how incredible it is to see the brave women who are standing up to the most brutal and heartless regime,” Nourbakhsh said. “Stand with the people of Iran and not the Islamic Republic. The time has come for a regime change.”
The Rev. Diana Davies, senior minister of First Unitarian Church and an Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma member, led the group in several songs and also shared remarks.
“We are here in this free place, this relatively free place, and we cannot forget them because their fight is our fight,” she said of Iranian protesters.
Ben Janloo, of Oklahoma City, and his daughter, Lisa Janloo, were among the first to arrive for the rally. Lisa Janloo, a candidate for House District 97, said she held a similar rally in early October in the Lake Hefner area.
“Women’s rights are human rights all over the world,” she said.
Her father said he left Iran and arrived in the US as an exchange student in 1972. He said he visited post-revolution Iran a few times after he earned two master’s degrees in America, but the environment seemed particularly stifling because he had spent a lot of time in the US
Ben Janloo said he supports Iranians who are protesting the Islamic Republic because they are protesting for their freedom and an end to unjust rules and regulations for women. He said the Iranian economy is also a source of discontent because the Islamic Republic rakes in money to support terrorists, but the Iranian people live in poverty.
“People are just so sick and tired of this regime,” he said. ‘
Dr. HS Shafa, 79, OU emeritus professor and chair of global programs and strategies and Burwell Endowed Chair of Management, said he came to the rally in support of Iranian women. He said the Islamic Republic is a “brutal theocracy that is not good for the country (Iran).”
Shafa said he was born into a Shiite Muslim family, but the Islamic Republic is a “terrible version of Islam, a special version of Shiite, very brutal.” Shiites and Sunnis are two different branches of Islam.
Echoing some of Nourbakhsh’s comments, Shafa said the United Nations and human rights organizations should expel or suspend the membership of Islamic Republic representatives until the group frees thousands of Iranian people ― mostly innocent girls and women ― who have been unjustly arrested during demonstrations held in the last few weeks.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mehdi Adham, an Oklahoma City plastic surgeon, orthopedic surgeon and former OU instructor, said he was also born in Iran and educated in America. He said he attended Thursday’s rally to show his support for the young people in Iran, particularly the women, who are risking their lives to protest against their oppressors.
“In spite of all those restrictions for females, they make up more than 50% of the universities, but they have no social mobility,” Adham said. “It’s really a matter of life and death. We’re enjoying freedom here, and we want them to experience freedom, too.”
Sara Alavi, of Edmond, 60, said she moved from Iran to the US when she was 14, and she’s been a US citizen for more than four decades.
“I’m here for supporting women and to ask the (US) government to stop making deals,” she said.
Contributing: The Associated Press