Iranian Australians driven to activism by Mahsa Amini’s death: ‘There’s strength in unity’

On 16 September 2022, Mahsa Jina Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman, died in the custody of Iran’s morality police, who had arrested her for wearing her hijab “improperly”.
Her death sparked protests across the country, with many women and girls defying the mandatory hijab law, which requires them to cover their hair in public, and calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, which has ruled Iran since 1979.

The government responded with violence, censorship and arrests. According to human rights groups, at least 537 people have been killed, and over 19,000 have been detained in the crackdown.

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Ms Amini has become a symbol of resistance against the religious dictatorship in Iran – a movement known as “Woman, Life, Freedom”.

In Australia, as around the world, members of the Iranian diaspora have also shown their support. Here, four Iranian Australians share how their lives have changed in the past 12 months.


Mahla* came to Australia in 2013. Having studied photography and held exhibitions in Iran, she now teaches art at Monash University.

I was detained in the same room as Mahsa Amini. In Iran, whenever we went out to take photos, the morality police would warn us that, as women, we were not allowed to do that. One time, they arrested me and took me to a place on Vozara Street, where they accused me of many wrong things and humiliated me.
It was horrifying! Just imagine a group of people with strange ideologies arresting you and keeping you in a cell to judge you. All that trauma stays with you for a long time.
The suppression of women completely broke my soul. It’s the same sad story for many Iranian women. I was arrested many times because of my dress code and for taking photos in the street. Daily life was a struggle.

When I heard Mahsa’s news, all those memories came back. That distress will never leave you. I thought that if I didn’t amplify all of those women’s voices, I would be betraying them. I had to tell our story to help the protesters as much as possible.

I thought that if I didn’t amplify all of those women’s voices, I would be betraying them.

Mahla, visual artist

There is strength in unity. I was driven to activism by all the shared sad memories. When I saw people in Iran fighting for their rights, I thought it was my duty to amplify their voices. That’s how we should act against a dictatorship.
I never had the chance to talk freely in Iran, but living in Australia has made me braver. This is just a basic human right. I know even speaking out here has consequences, but I am happy with my decision. The freedom I’m experiencing is something people don’t have in Iran, and I need to support them.
I’m a shy person. However, in the past year, I organised several protests in Melbourne where I gave speeches and chanted “Woman, Life, Freedom”. The anger I felt inside was so powerful that it changed my personality. Seeing all the young people killed during the protests, I needed to raise my voice.

Now I only think about freedom. These days we only see the violence and dark side of Iran, but as an artist I want to show the world the hidden beauty. It’s my dream to go back to my country, take photos and write a book about what’s happening, so future generations will understand.


Ek Taghdir was born in Tehran in 1985 and left Iran when he was two. He studied law in Australia and is now a barrister in Victoria specialising in family law.

I was never an activist. I recall there was an uprising in 2009 called the . The Iranian diaspora was probably much smaller than it is now. I was upset at the government’s reaction: the crackdowns, the killings, the torture, the imprisonment. Back then, I followed the news and participated in protests when they were organised. It was difficult to see people from your own background being killed for simply having an opinion.

First, it was the killing of Mahsa Amini, then it was the deaths of Hadis Najafi, Nika Shahkarami, Sarina Esmailzadeh and many more. These were young girls who went to the frontline and died. I thought, if they are out there on the streets, what is the least I can do? You’re watching the news, and there’s something about it that hits home. You see these young kids trying to make a change in their lives, and then they are killed. As an advocate, I felt duty-bound to use my power to help the people inside Iran.

You see these young kids trying to make a change in their lives, and then they are killed.

Ek Taghdir, barrister

A post on Instagram changed everything. It was in early October (2022) that I posted on Instagram and asked for the support of Australian politicians. More than 130,000 people have watched that video. I didn’t expect that. I thought to myself, something has to be done. All these protests were amazingly organised, but we were all speaking in Farsi. Someone had to talk to talk to the government in their language: English.
Being invited to the Parliament surprised me. It was stressful but I’m an advocate, it’s what I’m used to doing, and I was proud to be a voice for the Iranian Australian community. I didn’t expect to be invited to all these protests and to give speeches and to have meetings with different MPs and senators. I didn’t expect all of that, but when the opportunity arose, I prioritised it.

I know the consequences: you won’t be able to go back to the country you love without the real risk of being imprisoned, captured or even killed. It hurts, but I know that one day I will go back to Iran. I’ve got no doubt about it. But not while the regime is in power. At the end of the day, this is not about me or my generation. This is about the future.

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Parisima Kouklan was born two months before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. She arrived in Australia in 2005 and works as a fashion designer.

My life has always been tangled up with post-Islamic Revolution trauma: the eight years of the Iran-Iraq war, government dictatorship, and bitter personal experiences with the Iranian regime which resulted in me migrating to Australia. In the 18 years that I have lived here, many big incidents have happened in Iran, such as the Green Movement, and the shooting of the . Iranians here would react by holding rallies in Federation Square or other small events.

The murder of Mahsa Amini changed me from the inside. It was different to previous incidents. The news itself was horrifying; however, what happened afterwards motivated us further, like a giant wave forming. I felt like it was time to do something. It was time for them (the regime) to go.

An internal revolution is happening in people’s minds.

Parisima Kouklan, fashion designer

All of a sudden, I was attending rallies. I was neither an activist nor a political person in the past. I had no prior knowledge about these matters. But then I began following my heart.
I call them days of “mass mourning” for the Iranian community. I remember it was 4 October, 2022. Some Iranians were organising a protest in front of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Embassy in Canberra and another rally in front of the Parliament House. They were planning to meet some of the Australian MPs and senators. I thought I would join them.

I decided to protest through clothing. I was sitting in my studio, surrounded by textiles. I decided I would start a petition by asking people to write down their feelings and requests on a piece of fabric. I had no idea how it would go. I laid the cloth down on the ground in front of the Parliament House. People gradually started writing things down. Some wrote poems, and others wrote down their wishes.

The Cloth Of Unity

This simple idea became my act of resistance. I carried this piece of cloth to pretty much all protests and rallies. I told myself I wouldn’t stop until this chapter was closed. The cloth that initially was 40 metres in length now stretches more than 160 metres.  

Along this journey, I have lost some people. Some were afraid of their security; some thought the protests might fizzle out like previous ones. During the first couple of months after Mahsa’s death, my biggest challenge was the conversations I had with family members or friends. Some were very supportive, but others were against my viewpoint. I lost some friends. However, I also found new friends and networks which are valuable to me.

An internal revolution is happening in people’s minds. I’ve reached a new stage of personal maturity – both intellectually and mentally. As an Australian citizen, I feel a greater sense of responsibility and I am asking more questions. For example, what is happening in the Australian Parliament in this regard? What do the laws say? This is not a political view, I see it as a social view. And that makes me feel good.

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Mohammad Hashemi is a 31-year-old civil engineer who came to Australia in 2015. His cousin, Majid Kazemi, was executed during the uprising in Iran.

I have always loved Iran. Growing up, I passionately followed news about film, art and cultural activities. When I arrived in Australia, I realised there was a robust Iranian community here. Other students encouraged me to participate in the cultural activities I had always loved.

Mahsa’s news felt like a knockdown. As soon as I heard the news, I jumped on Instagram and shared an Iranian poem to show my anger. Iran has seen so many pivotal moments since the Revolution in 1979, protests in 2007, 2017 and 2019. It was clear that this time was different. Like many other Iranians, I thought that enough is enough.

Like many other Iranians, I thought that enough is enough.

Mohammad Hashemi, civil engineer

I was only two days older than my cousin Majid. Although we lived in different cities, we had a strong bond. Some of my fondest memories are playing together as kids. I would be so excited to visit my aunt’s place: that was the only time we could see each other.

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I learned of Majid’s arrest while I was mourning the execution of in Sydney CBD. I received a call from my family. I couldn’t believe it. There I was organising an event in support of a protester who had been executed in Iran, when I learned that my cousin was facing the same fate.

They issued the execution order just 50 days after arresting him. Apparently, it was a protest in Isfahan where a few police officers were killed. We heard contradictory stories, no one knew what happened that night. They arrested so many people, and Majid was one of three people who were to be executed because of their alleged involvement.

I started to campaign against Majid’s execution. We managed to do many things by approaching the media and Australian politicians. Many Australian senators supported our campaigns. I believe the regime was forced to postpone his execution due to the international community’s pressure. But to our disbelief, they eventually executed Majid.

That was life-changing. They executed Majid four months ago. I had my personal life and goals before, but now I feel there is an obstacle in front of us as a family, and we won’t be able to return to everyday life until it is removed.

The only thing that keeps us going is reclaiming lost rights. Those found guilty of violations should be held accountable. A significant amount of my time each day is spent thinking about ways we can bring justice to those families who have suffered in the past year.

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