'Women's rights are ignored': Iranian student in UCC speaks out against country’s regime

Tehran native Shadi Mahjoum has been bravely speaking out against the regime since she was a child.
'Women's rights are ignored': Iranian student in UCC speaks out against country’s regime

Shadi Mahjoum, from Iran, is now studying medicine at University College, Cork. Her family left Iran for Boston, USA eight and a half years ago. Pic Larry Cummins.

A University College Cork medicine student who risked her life at the age of 12 to help a woman injured in Iranian protests has spoken out against the country’s latest atrocities.

Tehran native Shadi Mahjoum has been bravely speaking out against the regime since she was a child. Nonetheless, she acknowledged that others with publicly shared views have not been so lucky. The regime have shown no mercy. Most recently, a 35-year-old local of a small village in northern Iran was sentenced to death for allegedly burning the Qur’an and “insulting holy things.”

He formed part of one of many anti-government protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini who died in custody for allegedly wearing her hijab incorrectly. Meanwhile, the widower of 17-year-old Mona Heidari has been sentenced to eight years in prison for her “honour killing.” Sajjab Heydari was seen carrying her severed head through the streets while smiling after the crime took place last February.

In the months leading up to that horrific scene Mona had attempted to flee to Turkey due to alleged domestic abuse. Sajjab is believed to have refused any previous requests for a divorce. Mona’s parents later pardoned him for the murder.

Shadi has risked her own life in opposition to the regime. It comes as frontline workers in Iran are being forced to lie about the causes of injuries or deaths as a percentage find themselves arrested, interrogated, physically assaulted (with one alleged killing) for treating patients in secret. “I come from a political family,” Shadi told The Echo.

She referred to one incident during her childhood that left the family in fear for their safety “We were in a car escaping from a protest when we spotted one person who had been shot in the leg. The bullet had hit an artery. 

"We knew she would die alone if we left her there. There was a lot of fear. 

"I knew that I would have been beaten down if I faced police.”

The family knew it was a significant risk to present at the hospital. “The revolutionary guards have stations in the hospital. They asked our names when we arrived but my parents were afraid. My father gave a fake name but the guard knew he was lying somehow and asked what his real name was. I could feel so much tension and fear. They already knew everything about us. My biggest concern was that they might come after us later.”

Even hospitals have become dangerous places in Iran. “Many people who get injured don’t go to the hospital because they realise that revolutionary guards will be waiting for them. Instead, they go home and call a doctor outside of Iran.”

 Shadi Mahjoum, from Iran, is now studying medicine at University College, Cork. Her family left Iran for Boston, USA eight and a half years ago. Pic Larry Cummins.
Shadi Mahjoum, from Iran, is now studying medicine at University College, Cork. Her family left Iran for Boston, USA eight and a half years ago. Pic Larry Cummins.

Fortunately, on this occasion, both parties were left unharmed. “We called the woman’s husband to come get her as soon as he could because it wasn’t safe. We got in contact with them sometime later and luckily, she was okay.” 

The activist continued to defy the regime. Speaking about her schooldays she said: “The operation has always been happening. It just changes and fluctuates overtime, especially with the Government crackdown. Even while in school I would always try to show my opposition. The principal told me I had to follow the rules but I would not do it. Because of this, my parents were often brought in to provide an explanation but they were on my side and argued that what they were following was against their ethical views.” 

Shadi was regularly threatened with expulsion. However, her test scores were so impressive they feared her absence might bring down the school’s overall average. “We were ordered to wear a hijab since some of our teachers were male. You can’t go to school or do anything in society without a hijab. It was when I was wearing mine improperly that I was threatened with expulsion. Praying in the mosques was mandatory but I came up with every excuse not to go. 

"It wasn’t what I believed but rather what the government want society to believe.”

Shadi, whose parents are now based in Boston, said she will continue to speak out against the regime. “I’m trying to amplify the voices of those forced to stay silent; anything to show the world what’s going on. My relatives are still there so it’s a good opportunity to be the voice of the people. Women’s rights are ignored. We are second - maybe even third or fourth-class citizens. If you want to leave the country you need the permission of your husband or partner. A woman is unable to undergo surgery without the approval of her husband first. All these requirements are dominating people’s lives.”

She refuses to give up hope. “It’s horrifying but at the same time we are optimistic because we know that nothing can break this unity. What happened was a spark in our society.”

She praised the courage of activists in Iran.

“People from the ages of 10 to 80 are facing guns and bullets. We cannot live under this dictatorship. Many in Iran feel they have nothing to lose and want to make life better for the next generation. They are being shot with bullets in their eyes. So many have lost their eyes for just being on the streets. Iranians no longer want a reform of the regime, they want an end to it.”

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