Sara Shariati worries about her family in Iran, knowing the extent and force the government uses against people protesting.
The University of Toronto student has led demonstrations in Toronto showing support for protesters in Iran, who are standing up for women’s rights.
The uproar was sparked late September when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in custody of Iran’s “morality police,” a unit that enforces mandatory headscarves for women and girls in Iran, The Associated Press reported. She was taken to a “re-education centre” for not wearing her hijab correctly and later died. Her family says she was beaten to death, while officials say it was a heart attack.
The treatment of Amini, and later of protesters in Iran, ignited rallies in Canada, with many taking to the streets to condemn the Iranian regime’s use of force tactics. Marches in Canada continue to be organized and attended into November.
“I know for a fact what the Islamic Republic can do, and what they are capable of,” Shariati told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday, referring to what her family has witnessed and experienced. “We have seen it for the past 70 days. And yes, I am worried that my family might be at risk.”
According to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group monitoring the demonstrations, at least 448 people have been killed and more than 18,000 arrested since the beginning of the protests, The Associated Press reports. The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF released a statement condemning the reported deaths, injuries and detention of children in Iran.
“A lot of these are students, young people, even minors – people my age or younger,” Shariati said. “Their families have no news about them, where they are being held what their charges are, so their whereabouts remain unknown. People have been injured, so brutally.”
The Iranian government’s tactics to quash the marches include internet bans across the country, which makes it incredibly difficult for families, like Shariati’s, to communicate from Iran.
“It’s difficult to get information out,” Shariati said. “The internet has been becoming more and more restricted every single day as protests also intensify.”
Other tactics used by the government include tear gas, shooting at residential homes and tracking people’s locations using their phones, she said.
“I’ve seen people changing their locations, people like me, university students, don’t feel safe in their own homes,” she said, referring to friends and family in Iran. “So they try to figure out where to stay for this night, next night (and the) next night.”
“There have been reports of security forces tracking phone calls or messages, confiscating phones, in university campuses for example, and taking these as evidence using it against people,” Shariati said. “One thing that people outside are doing, (that) has put them at risk as well… is that we try to be the bridge to connect people who need help to people who are offering it underground. But that also comes with a risk.”
November marks two months since the protests started, with many including Shariati believing this is an important moment in Iran’s history.
“I feel like this is bigger than us,” she said. “Even bigger than Iran. And it’s going to change the whole face of the Middle East and even be an inspiration to the rest of the world because the message is so great for this revolution.”