Little did we know that the day would come when our mother would fall asleep crying on your bed, our father would sit in the corner of the room and hide his tears from us, and I would not be able to open the glove compartment of my car to open it so I don’t see your headscarf left there… My only wish would be to hug you one more time…” Ashkan Amini, brother of Jina Mahsa Amini, wrote on Instagram on October 11.
It is a Tuesday at the end of October – 39 days after her death – when Diako Aili, her cousin, in a village near the Norwegian city of Bergen, sits on the sofa and opens the photo album for the report.
It is bound in black, the photos are in transparent foil. He points to one of the pictures. “Here,” he says, “this is her. Yina.”
A little girl in floral pants, her black hair falls thick and shiny on the nape of her neck. He pulls a second photo out of the case.
She sits barefoot on the carpet in the living room of her parents’ house in Saghes, petite, long eyelashes, “Flower” is written on her white T-shirt with small rhinestones. She looks over her shoulder, straight into the camera.
“Mahsa,” says Diako Aili, “no one has ever called her that.” Not the family, not the friends, not herself. She only had to be given a Persian name for her passport, Kurdish names are often not accepted.
But she lived in Saghes, a Kurdish town in western Iran, population 140,000, not far from the Iraqi border. She spoke Kurdish with her family, so everyone here only called her by her real name.
jina Who loved singing, dancing and traveling. jina She was arrested by the Iranian moral police on September 13 and taken to a police station, where she collapsed a little later. She was in a coma for two and a half days, with head injuries and ventilated via a tube.
Her relatives in Iran find it difficult to speak to journalists. Telephones are monitored, and the family is said to have received the first threats shortly after Amini’s death. And so a great deal of caution can be sensed in all the conversations that Spiegel and Deutsche Welle have had.
Now, in mid-November, a large silver padlock is hanging in front of a boutique in Saghes. While life goes on in all the other shops selling handbags, jewelry and mobile phones, the light has gone out in Jina Amini’s shop.
She had wished that her father, Amjad Amini, a retired insurance clerk, would open this shop for her, her father says on the phone. She was waiting for her place at university and was looking for a job to fill the waiting time. A few months before her death, in the summer of this year, he fulfilled her dream. “Best Boutique” is what she called her shop.
Her father or brother brought her to the store in the morning and picked her up again in the evening, according to her relatives in Norway. At 22, Jina Amini still lived at home with her parents, in a beautiful two-story house in Shahrak Daneshgah, a middle-class neighborhood of Saghes.
She already had a driver’s license and enjoyed driving, but as a young, unmarried woman, driving to work alone was probably not an option for her.
Aliya Aili, the aunt of Jina Amini, traveled to Saghes in the summer of 2022. She reports how Jina repeatedly pointed out that the aunt should cover herself, how the veil should fit. “You’re very strict,” Jina would have said. One sensed that there was a certain fear of the police and moral guardians.
Aili is in her late 40s. She left Iran in the early 1990s when she was just 18 years old. Aili’s children were born in Norway. If her sister, Jina’s mother, had gone with them then, could Jina still be alive today?
Sometimes, Diako Aili and his mother say, they feel guilty. Because of all the freedoms that are so self-evident for them.
“My little sister is the same age as Jina,” says Diako Aili. The two were born just a few weeks apart, one in a Western democracy, the other in an Islamist dictatorship. He says, “My sister can say what she wants, wear what she wants, be who she wants.”
Different rules applied to Jina Amini: hair and neck covered by a headscarf, female bodies covered by a coat, no skin should be visible from the wrists to the ankles.
Jina was born on September 21, 1999, and since then there hasn’t been a day that they haven’t seen each other or at least talked, says her grandfather Rahman Aili. Deutsche Welle reached him by phone in Saghes.
When Jina was still an infant, he gave her a nickname, he says: “Schnee”. Which means something like: a gentle wind. That’s what he called her, even when she was already grown up. She was a quiet, relaxed girl.
When she was in elementary school, doctors discovered that she had a benign brain tumor that was successfully treated with surgery. Since then, says her grandfather, there have never been any health problems.
He emphasizes this, probably also because Iranian coroners later claimed that it was not police violence, but this old operation that was the cause of his granddaughter’s death. Her relatives claim that she was healthy.
Her last trip was supposed to be about Jina’s future. The family traveled together to Urmia, a city in north-western Iran, to enroll at university. She had successfully applied to study biology there.
On the afternoon of September 13, when Jina Amini was arrested, the young people were walking around town together. That’s what her uncle tells Aili on the phone. Jina, her brother Ashkan Amini and two cousins. Between 6:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. they got off at the Haghani metro station.
There, Jina and her two cousins were arrested by the Gasht-e Ershad, the moral police, allegedly because of “un-Islamic clothing”. Only Jina they took with them in the end.
One of the two cousins who was not taken away later told her aunt in Norway what had happened: Jina tried to resist arrest, but the vice squad force her into the vehicle.
The cousin went on to say that they followed the vice police to the station. And that about two hours after Jina’s arrest, some young women stormed out of the station shouting, “You killed her!”
After that, the ambulance came and took Jina to Kasra Hospital. Her grandfather says: “I am convinced that she was violated.”
In an interview with Deutsche Welle, her father hoped that those responsible would receive their just punishment. “Today it was Jina and tomorrow it will be someone else,” says her uncle.
Jina’s aunt in Norway says that Jina confided in her several times that she wanted to leave Iran after her studies.
Her sister, Jina’s mother, also said that Jina would definitely not marry in Iran, she would one day go abroad.
It is the dream that many young Iranians have. However, Jina’s dream was buried with her. Her tombstone reads, “Dear Jina, you are not dead. Your name will be a code.”
The article is the result of a cooperation between “Der Spiegel” and “Deutsche Welle”.
Author: Youhanna Najdi, Omid Barin, Nilofar Ghoolami, Dialika Neufeld (Der Spiegel)
The original of this post “The face of the protests in Iran” comes from Deutsche Welle.