Content warning: mentions of police brutality
More than 500 Iranian students and community members gathered in solidarity Friday on Sproul Plaza to hold a candlelight vigil for Mahsa Amini, a woman who died in Iran more than a week ago after allegedly being beaten by the police.
Demonstrators first convened at Sproul Plaza before marching through Sather Gate and gathering on the steps of Wheeler Hall. Tables were decorated with candles, flowers and notes addressed to Amini and “brothers and sisters” in Iran.
According to one demonstrator, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation from the Iranian government, community members were protesting the Iranian “morality police” and the existence and brutal enforcement of compulsory hijab and dress code.
“I have been raised to know that it is okay to fight and leave in that situation, and that no one can tell you what to do and be so condescending and humiliating everyday,” the demonstrator said. “I am here because I am fighting for my family in Iran who can’t do anything about it … (and) I’m here to speak their voice about it.”
The vigil was originally organized by UC Berkeley students Hasti Mofidi and Yaas Farzanefar as part of Middle East Matters, a youth-run campus organization, and with the support of Iranian student body.
While both Farzanefar and Mofidi planned for about a hundred people, more than five times the number arrived for the demonstration. Attendees varied in both age and background.
Farzanefar said she expected a more quiet vigil led with a few speeches; however, with the size of the crowd, it quickly turned into a rally. Chants ranged from “Women, life, freedom” to “Say her name, Mahsa Amini.”
“It was more than just lighting candles and coming together,” Farzanefar said. “It was making a roar, making not only the university hear us, but making the state hear us, making the world hear that we … are angry, are sad, are in pain and this is what we do when we can’t be back in our country.”
Multiple speakers also shared their thoughts in the form of speeches, songs and poems that were largely recited in Farsi.
Campus senior Maryam Karimi, who represented the Afghan Student Association, shared poetry during the vigil.
Karimi was born and raised in Afghanistan and noted that she and many women in her country “share the same pain.”
“Today, to see that women are still oppressed because of the choice of their clothing is just unbelievable,” Karimi said. “I connect to that because I was deprived of my rights the same way, and now that I am here and I have the freedom of speech; I am going to fight for these women.”
Mofidi added that campus stands as a symbol, a “breeding ground” for free speech. That distinction was why the rally and vigil was held on campus.
Campus, however, allegedly removed all signs of vigil — including the table, candles, flowers and pamphlets — from Wheeler Hall the following morning, according to Farzanefar.
Farzanefar said that she felt hurt by these actions, since many — including herself — have personally been affected by the protests and political situation in Iran.
“The lack of any statement coming from the university in support to Iranian students, maybe just checking in and seeing if they need anything … that is the bare minimum,” Farzanefar said. “When there are students on campus who have family, parents in Iran that they haven’t been able to reach out to, I think it is really important for the university to recognize that.”