Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi said the death in custody of a young Iranian Kurdish woman last year has sparked an irreversible “revolutionary process” that would eventually lead to the collapse of the Islamic Republic.
Iran’s clerical rulers have faced widespread unrest since Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the morality police on September 16 after she was arrested for wearing “inappropriate attire”.
As they have done in the past four decades, Iran’s hardline rulers have cracked down hard on protests. Authorities have handed down dozens of death sentences to people involved in protests and have carried out at least four hangings, in what rights activists say is aimed at intimidating people and keep them off the streets.
A staunch critic of the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Ebadi has been one of the most outspoken supporters of the anti-government demonstrations.
Like many critics of Iran’s clerical rulers, Ebadi believes the current wave of protests has been the boldest challenge to the establishment’s legitimacy yet.
“This revolutionary process is like a train that will not stop until it reaches its final destination,” said Ebadi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work defending human rights and who has been in exile in London since 2009.
The 1979 revolution toppled Iran’s Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a secular monarch allied with the West, and led to the formation of an Islamic Republic.
With the latest protests ushering Iran into an era of deepening crisis between the rulers and society at large, Amini’s death has unbottled years of anger among many Iranians over issues ranging from economic misery and discrimination against ethnic minorities to tightening social and political restrictions.
For months, Iranians from all walks of life have called for the fall of the clerical establishment, chanting slogans against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
However, protests have slowed considerably since the hangings began. Videos shared on social media showed people chanting “Death to Khamenei” from rooftops in some cities, but nothing on the scale of past months.
The rights group HRANA said that as of Wednesday, 527 protesters had been killed during unrest, including 71 minors. It said 70 members of the security forces had also been killed. As many as 19,262 protesters are believed to have been arrested, it said.
Ebadi, speaking in a phone interview from London, said the state’s use of deadly violence will deepen anger felt by ordinary Iranians about the clerical establishment because their grievances remain unaddressed.
“The protests have taken a different shape, but they have not ended,” Ebadi told Reuters in a phone interview from London.
With deepening economic misery, chiefly because of US sanctions over Tehran’s disputed nuclear work, many Iranians are feeling the pain of galloping inflation and rising joblessness.
Inflation has soared to over 50 per cent, the highest level in decades. Youth unemployment remains high with over 50pc of Iranians being pushed below the poverty line, according to reports by Iran’s Statistics Centre.