UCDSU and Iranian Students host Solidarity Vigil for Mahsa Amini and Iranian Protestors.

Image Credit: Heather Reynolds

The event honouring Amini took place on Wednesday, October 12th, outside the Sutherland School of Law, as protests sweep across Iran.

Amidst a backdrop of widespread political turmoil and social upheaval, many young Iranians have taken to the streets to protest the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was killed in the custody of Iran’s controversial ‘morality police’ back in September. With limited amounts of information filtering out of the state due to government crackdowns on internet access, many members of the Iranian diaspora, among them UCD students, have organised rallies in solidarity with the protestors back home.

On Wednesday 12th October, the Student’s Union played host to a solemn tribute to Amini, and other women who have fallen victim to the regime's restrictive laws governing morality, dress codes, and sexuality. Approximate estimates indicate that the vigil was attended by just short of 200 people, including many students from Iranian backgrounds, and members of the Iranian diaspora. The ceremony lasted for one hour between 1 and 2pm. Attendees were asked not to take pictures that included the faces of other attendees, for the stated purpose of protecting their safety and privacy.

Attendees lit small candles in memory of Amini, and brought placards bearing the popular slogan: ‘Women, Life, Freedom’, a rallying cry for the movement erupting throughout the region. Martha Ní Riada, UCDSU Education Officer, opened the vigil, stating that the SU would be: ‘speaking on their behalf, but that’s because of the regime that’s there: it’s dangerous for [Iranians] to speak up.’ Ní Riada spoke at length about the importance of students speaking up on behalf of Iranians who are unable to do so, either because they were fearful of government reprisals, or because people in Iran have been silenced by internet censorship. 

She introduced a member of the Iranian community, who will remain anonymous, who went on to call for a concerted global effort to tackle the issues in Iran. The following speaker urged members of the international community to share posts on social media highlighting the plight of women in Iran, and to agitate for greater pressure to be applied on the regime in Tehran. However, they strongly argued against the imposition of economic sanctions, criticising the EU's tacit complicity in US sanction campaigns, citing the devastating humanitarian impact they have had on civilians.

In one harrowing example, they described a sick Iranian child whose family were unable to access appropriate medication due to the pharmaceutical shortages caused by sanctions. Anecdotal examples were provided of the ways in which sanctions have inflicted a disproportionately negative impact on ordinary Iranians, while doing little to alter the policies of the Iranian government. Indeed, many UCD students from Iran have struggled to access online academic materials due to the impact of US sanctions. It became apparent that leading figures within the Iranian diaspora community are opposed to such sanctions, given the suffering and nuisance they cause for working-class and middle-class Iranians overseas, including students and researchers.

Iran has been led by an Ayatollah overseeing a clerical network of mullahs, a system which international commentators have described as theocratic, since the conclusion of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The Revolution witnessed the overthrow of the US-backed Shah (monarch), replacing him with a new form of leadership that emphasises social conservatism, and an extreme brand of Islamic fundamentalism. American attempts at undermining the country’s sovereignty in pursuit of oil and gas interests, as Iran lies on the Persian Gulf, and holds 10% of the world’s oil and 15% of its gas, have generated controversy, with some arguing that American hostility towards Iran is merely motivated by a desire for access to its resources, rather than out of sincere solidarity with, or concern for, the wellbeing of the Iranian people. Indeed, the opposite appears to be the case: American sanctions have had a detrimental impact on the welfare of the Iranian people. 

Many western countries who have imposed sanctions on Iran have also been accused of committing human rights abuses and atrocities, for example the actions of the US military during the Iraq war, and consequently are perceived as hypocritical in their dealings with Tehran. As the Iranian government faces intense backlash from its people over its treatment of women, other major global powers, including the United States, are also facing criticism for their handling of issues that disproportionately impact women, such as abortion rights. With this year’s US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade depriving many women of access to reproductive healthcare, activists across the globe point to an array of examples of attempts at policing women’s bodily autonomy, and also critique the ways in which media narratives portray the atrocities in Iran as though they are unique or anomalous. Demonstrably, they are not.

Wednesday’s vigil was described as a: ‘powerful demonstration of solidarity from students and staff’ by the UCDSU Instagram account. A subsequent post echoed the sentiments of the Iranian speaker, decrying western attempts at exploiting the atrocities in order to justify hostility and sanctions towards Iran: “We will continue to stand strongly opposed to the forces of imperialism that seek to instrumentalise the unrest in Iran for its [sic] own gain and demand a halt to the economic warfare in the form of Western imposed sanctions.”

The intimate, yet potent, protest had a dignified atmosphere of quiet stoicism, as members of the community congregated to pay their respects and extend their solidarity to the people of Iran.