Many young Iranians lose their fear in struggle for "freedom"

People light a fire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic's "morality police", in Tehran, Iran September 21, 2022. [WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters | File Photo]

As a child in Iran, Shideh heard her parents warn her older siblings against taking part in anti-government demonstrations because of the bloody crackdown that would follow. But today, with protests raging across Iran, things have changed.

Both Shideh - now a teenager - and her mother say they have joined seven weeks of demonstrations ignited by the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of Iran's morality police.

The protests triggered by Amini's death on Sept. 16 have shown the defiance of many young Iranians in challenging the clerical leadership, overcoming fear that has stifled dissent in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

"I have one life and I want to live it freely," said Shideh, 17, who asked that her family name not be used. "We are not scared of being killed. We will eventually change the regime."

Her sentiment was echoed by a dozen young Iranians from across the country interviewed by Reuters by phone. The students, who asked not to be named, said the protests reflect what many young Iranians see as a darkening future for a country ruled by hardliners seeking to tighten rigid social controls.

Iranian officials, who have blamed Amini's death on preexisting medical problems, say the unrest has been fomented by foreign enemies including the United States, and accuse armed separatists of perpetrating violence.

Iran's interior ministry and chief of police's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

The authorities have used tried-and-tested means of quelling dissent - from tear gas and bullets to intimidation and arrests - many young demonstrators have remained unbowed.