By Mike Kinney
She may live more than 7,500 miles away from Iran, but Richmond elementary school principal Farnaaz Heydari hopes her voice will have an impact on her native Iran, where deadly mass protesting persists in the wake of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody.
Amini was reportedly arrested by the Iranian government’s morality police in Tehran this past September for allegedly wearing the hijab improperly. She died just days later in a hospital under suspicious circumstances. Denying reports she had been brutally beaten by police, Iranian authorities attributed Amini’s death to a heart attack from an underlying condition.
News of her death prompted mass demonstrations against Iran’s strict theocratic government that has thus far claimed more than 180 lives, according to news reports. While Iranian lawmakers demand “no leniency” for protesters, many around the world — including Heydari, principal at Grant Elementary in Richmond — believe the persistent dissent could become a catalyst for change.
Heydari wants to help amplify global pressure on Iran’s government by raising awareness in her community. She believes Amini’s death was the “last straw” for the Iranian people — men and women alike.
“They have had enough oppression and fear and they are refusing to allow this to be the status quo,” Heydari said.
Such issues are close to Heydari’s heart. She immigrated to the U.S. from Iran at age 11 over religious persecution. Her mother was of the Baha’i Faith, the country’s largest minority religion that has faced severe persecution since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
“My mother’s sixth sense provided me with opportunities that would have been denied to me in my country of birth,” Heydari said. “In the United States, I have been able to enjoy freedoms that my sisters and brothers in Iran pray for. I am able to practice my religion freely, excel in my studies, be of service to my community, and have the freedom that I don’t take for granted.”
In the wake of Amini’s death, Heydari hopes her American neighbors will learn more about the extent of oppression women face in Iran. She said the people of Iran are fed up and “want a democracy without fear of being killed over something as small as showing a strand of hair.”
Heydari is encouraging fellow Americans to support the movement by “simply spreading the word of the atrocities that are occurring in Iran” and calling their elected officials to voice their concerns. In a nation that censors vital information, Heydari says it is critical that the truth be disseminated worldwide in order for there to be an enduring voice for women in Iran.
“My hope is that eventually, this women-led revolution will be heard all over the world, and that powerful nations will begin to see the true injustices behind the false facade the regime has hidden behind,” Heydari said. “I hope for a day where my Iranian sisters can truly experience freedom.”