The Islamic Republic of Iran has been convulsed by protests before but this time it’s different, says Iranian-born Canberra medical researcher Bahar Miraghazadeh.
The bravery of the young protestors has compelled the 40-year-old dual citizen to speak out against the regime and call for Australia to shut the Iranian Embassy and send their diplomats packing.
Dr Miraghazadeh, who came to Australia in 2009 for her PhD and stayed, says the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody has been the fuse to ignite the anger and frustration of a generation with nothing to lose.
She says the regime has been able to quell previous unrest but the combination of endemic corruption, administrative incompetence and a failing economy mean young people cannot see a future in Iran.
What they can see clearly on the internet and social media, before the regime shut them down, is how abnormal life is under the regime and its morality police, especially for women.
“This generation is under enormous and profound economic pressure, unemployment, corruption that they can see with their eyes,” she says.
“And this is the era of internet … Now they can compare with other countries. Why should there be police telling me what to do? This is not normal. Why can’t I afford to buy what I want. This is not normal. Just having higher education, for what? I need a proper job as well. Why is there discrimination against me? This is not normal. So that’s the difference.”
For her generation who grew up knowing nothing else but the Islamic Republic it was a case of acceptance, keeping one’s head down and getting on with life despite the limitations.
Nonetheless she and her mother were arrested several times for not wearing headscarfs properly or wearing pants that showed the ankle.
Dr Miraghazadeh says it seems tolerable enough until you need to apply for a job or a university and your police can be used against you.
It was only when she came to Australia and realised just how free she was that the full implications of the system hit home.
“I think this is the first time that I’m so keen to talk about this because after living here for 12, 13 years now I understand that all those years that I was there, all that discrimination that I could see and experience we never spoke up about it because it looks normal,” she says.
“You feel like, oh my God, all those years. They wasted my life as a young one.”
Dr Miraghazadeh has come to regret that her generation did not speak out then but the fear is palpable and friends her age in Iran while supportive of the protestors remain very cautious.
Even her visiting brother covered his face when they attended a recent demonstration in Canberra, joining others around the world.
As an outward looking student who always wanted to travel it was much easier to leave.
Dr Miraghazadeh says sanctions only hurt the people trying to make a living but isolating the regime diplomatically and targeting its figures, such as how Australia and the world community have taken on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, would have an impact.
“I think it’s a time for the world to get united against that regime, isolate them. First of all, they need to close down that embassy. That’s a very first thing, just to show at least they support the Iranian people,” she says.
“I really want the message to get to our government here. They need to do something.”
She says just going to the embassy to renew a passport is a frightening experience for Australian Iranians.
“When I go to the embassy, they look at me like I’m a criminal. I’m educated, they don’t care. I’m someone helping people, I’m a scientist for God’s sake. They don’t care; they judge me based on what I wear. Even now if I go there, I have to cover my hair.
“It’s a very scary moment for every single Iranian when they step inside that embassy; God knows what’s going to happen.”
Changing the regime in Iran will also benefit the region where Iran’s meddling has created so much instability, Dr Miraghazadeh says.
But it’s the people of Iran who are suffering and losing hope, particularly its youth, and in need of support.
“It’s very sad when a 15-year-old says that I have nothing to lose. I’d rather die than live with no rights,” Dr Miraghazadeh says.