MILWAUKEE — A group of Iranian women organized a candlelight vigil in Milwaukee in memory of a young woman who died while in police custody over strict hijab rules.
They hope the U.S. government steps in to respond to the situation.
Government officials in Iran claimed 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after a heart attack put her in a coma. Amini’s family disputes the claim and accused authorities of lying.
“This could happen to me, to my sister, to my family, to anyone in the world. It broke my heart and I’m enraged,” said Maryam Ayazi.
“I’m using this moment to use my freedom in America to be their voice, to be my voice,” Sammie Omranian said.
Friends Ayazi and Omranian are Ph.D. students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. They came to Wisconsin about a decade ago from Iran.
Ayazi and Omranian worked with other local Iranian women to organize Friday’s vigil.
“Iranian women have always been under pressure of suppression. I think that a lot of women all around the world can relate to this. I know that this is not all about the hijab. This is all about suppression and forcing people to not have their choice,” Ayazi said.
Protests have erupted across Iran. A human rights group reported at least eight people were killed by security forces.
Omranian says Amini has become a symbol of a movement.
“When I see Mahsa, I see what I witnessed 40 years ago,” said Amir Heidarian, president of the Iranian American Community of Wisconsin.
Heidarian got emotional talking about the situation unfolding in his home county. Before he moved to Wisconsin decades ago, Heidarian said he was jailed for six months for openly opposing the Iranian government.
He knows firsthand how cruel the government there can be. Heidarian expressed pride and support for the Iranian women leading the protests.
“I see this Iranian woman leading the demonstration and they get arrested and God knows what happens to them when they get arrested,” Heidarian said.
Local Iranians are extremely concerned over what could be unfolding during an internet blackout in Iran, recalling back in 2019 when the government cut off the internet connection and more than 1,500 people were killed.