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‘Be our voice’: Demonstrators call for justice, freedom in Iran on Boston Common

People gathered on Boston Common Saturday to protest against the treatment of Iranian Mahsa Amini as a protester carried a photo of her.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Hundreds of protesters marched through Boston Common Saturday demanding the creation of a democratic and just Iran, amid nationwide uprisings in the country against its decades-old regime.

Violent demonstrations erupted in Iran following the Sept. 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini who had been taken into custody by the country’s morality police for how she was wearing her hijab. The government’s security forces have cracked down on the protests and dozens have been reportedly killed, although the number cannot be verified. The government has restricted access to the Internet, making it more difficult to report on the demonstrations.

Officials have said Amini died from a heart attack, but her family has contested that.

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In Boston Saturday, many from the region’s Iranian community yelled chants like “Women want freedom” and carried signs calling for the end to Iran’s hardline government, which took over the country in 1979.

“They continue to attack every aspect of human rights,” said Banafsheh Salamat, 57, of Swampscott. “And it has to stop.”

Iran’s “morality police” enforce rules on women’s appearance, including requirements that women wear head coverings and loose-fitting clothing.

Amini’s death led to condemnations from the United States and other nations, and thousands have taken to the streets of Iranian cities. Demonstrators in Iran have demanded justice for her, called for greater freedom, and an end to restrictions on women.

The demonstrators are also reportedly motivated by long-simmering opposition to other issues, including the impact of ongoing economic sanctions and growing poverty in Iran.

In Boston, demonstrators gathered before they marched next to the Common’s monument to the Massachusetts famed Black soldiers who fought in the Civil War with the 54th regiment. Several organizers of the demonstration addressed the crowd and led chants in support of the Iranian people.

“People are not only fighting for justice and women’s rights... they are demanding an end to this totalitarian regime,” one woman told the crowd.

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About a dozen women cut locks of their hair — a symbolic act opposing the Iranian government’s prohibitions against women showing their hair in public.

Among them was Zara, a 28-year-old living in Boston who declined to give her full name out of fear of reprisals against her parents, who are in Iran.

Zara spent most of her life in Iran, she said, and often faced harassment from authorities who enforced the country’s rules governing women’s appearance.

Though she enjoys the freedom of living in the United States now, she said she constantly thinks about how many women in Iran continue to face oppression and must fight for their “basic human rights.”

“I pray for the people of Iran — [the] women and men who are risking their lives for women’s freedom,” she said. “I hope something changes for good.”

Many in the crowd carried signs with messages like “Rise with the women of Iran,” and “Islamic Dictatorship must end now.”

But even in Boston, many fear the reach of the Iranian government and declined to be identified, saying they feared reprisal against themselves and their families for speaking out.

“If I say something that Ayatollah doesn’t like, I will end up in the jail,” said a woman who gave her name only as Marjon. “That’s what happens in Iran.”

Marjon carried two signs, one that featured Amini’s photograph and another with a message that read, “Do something for Iran.”

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Many demonstrators, including Marjon, said they wanted people in the United States to use their freedom to speak out in support of the protesters in Iran.

“We want [Boston residents] to help us be the voice of the people of Iran that they don’t have right now,” she said.

A 40-year-old Boston woman at the demonstration who gave her initials as N.R. said the people of Iran are suffering under the current regime and carried a sign with a simple message: “Be our voice.”

“We don’t want the Islamic republic. We want freedom,” she said. “It’s about women’s rights, it’s about human rights.”

Reza Amin, 37, of Boston, expressed optimism that the current demonstrations will lead to a freer Iran, because women have been focusing on human rights issues during the protests.

“This time, women are up in front of everything, and men are just following them,” he said. “The courage has always been there. But this time, it came out.”

At the monument earlier in the day, images of Amini were taped up, along with posters inscribed with her name and handwritten messages, such as, “Iranian women need your support.”

Close to those tributes was an engraved inscription honoring the Massachusetts regiment: “The memory of the just is blessed.”


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.