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Utah Iranians ask the world, and their adopted home, to ‘stand with us’

University of Utah, Salt Lake City, International Week Rally, Iran protest, Nov. 14, 2022
courtesy of Maryam Radpour
Two individuals hold up an Iranian flag with the protest slogan "Woman, Life, Freedom" on it during an international week rally on the campus of the University of Utah, Nov. 14, 2022.

Christmas Eve will mark 100 days since protests started in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini. Iranian morality police arrested her in Tehran for allegedly wearing her hijab incorrectly, and she later died in custody. The protests have led to executions and mass imprisonment of protesters.

Iranian Maryam Radpour now calls Utah home. She said the protests aren’t just about hijab rules anymore — she and other Iranians want to see a regime change and democracy established in their homeland.

Radpour grew up in fear. She described how she was scared of the morality police the entire time she lived there and heard many scary stories of what they do to those they arrest. “It depends on the person who arrests you and how that person feels. Some are better, and some are just looking for a bribe to let you go, while many are aggressive and violent,” she said.

Her first-hand experience with the police came when she was a freshman in college. She was on a bus ride to Tehran when young men and women started dancing and playing music together. Radpour said she didn’t participate. “I was sitting in the first row, a scared 18-year-old,” she recounted.

A few days later, fully-covered women came to her dormitory late at night and took her to the morality police building on campus. “They knew everything. They knew that I was not the participant. But they gave me a list of all the names and asked me to sign,” Radpour said. They wanted her to confirm that those names were the people who had been dancing together.

“I did not sign, but they humiliated me and they verbally abused me. I was so scared. And after that, they told me I'm not allowed to talk to anybody about this interview they did with me.”

Radpour is now treasurer at the Iranian American Society of Utah and is doing all she can to support the protests in Iran and make change from here.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ciara Hulet: What do your family and friends in Iran say about the current state of the protests?

Maryam Radpour: To be honest, I am not talking too much with my family because of their safety. I try not to talk over the phone. I don't know if [the] government [is] listening to our conversation. But my friends, they are saying that this movement is totally different than whatever happened before in Iran.

CH: What are you trying to do about it from here?

MR: We have weekly protests, so we are standing with the Iranian people. We are asking politicians to stop any negotiation with Iran because the negotiation they are doing is legitimizing the Islamic regime. There are several good movements that [have] happened. On Dec. 14, Iran was removed from the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

CH: Did you have any part in that happening?

MR: We had a lot of petitions signed, and I believe that was one of the forces that made the United Nations to do that.

CH: How are you hoping that Utahns will support the work that you're doing?

MR: We are always supporting any movement that is related to human rights and is related to specifically women. Mahsa Amini's death is like George Floyd in Iran, and we want to stop that brutality in Iran as well. Right now we expect the world to stand with us — Utahns, the Americans.

Awareness is the biggest thing. We want them to share the stories. Talk about us. Show that you care. That's what we need right now. We are trying to do something to make politicians stand with us. Awareness from the public makes the politician hear us. That's what we expect.

CH: If things do change in Iran. Does that make any difference for Iranians living abroad like you?

MR: Definitely. Right now, I have not talked with my family as frequent[ly] as before. We have to be worried for them every single day. For me, because I have been politically active, I do not know when is going to be the next time I am going to go to Iran. If the regime is not changing, I'm not sure when is going to be the next time I'm seeing my family.

CH: Do you see an end on the horizon?

MR: I do. It's a big, bright light at the end of this tunnel. This movement is a different movement rather than [any] seen in history. To be honest, it's a women's movement. The slogan is “Woman, Life, Freedom.” It's going to be a big thing happening. Maybe [it will take] a little time, but it's going to happen.

Ciara is a native of Utah and KUER's Morning Edition host
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