The death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's notorious morality police, after allegedly breaking the country's strict rules on the wearing of the hijab, has sparked global outrage and triggered mass protests both within and outside Iran.
Christians are taking part in these protests and joining in the calls for justice, the rights of women and an end to oppression in Iran.
Mansour Borji, Advocacy Director at Article 18, a London-based group advocating for religious freedom in Iran, speaks to Christian Today about why Amini's death has provoked so much anger and whether this might become a turning point for Iran.
CT: Were you taken by surprise by the scale of the protests and the very public display of discontent with the Iranian government and the regime there?
MB: To be honest, no. It is to be expected after years of oppression which have brought Iran to this boiling point. Every decade or so, Iran has had a national uprising but what we are seeing is the increasing frequency of these uprisings because of the amount of anger and outrage that has driven people to demonstrate on the streets of Iran and at universities. Even high school students are rising up and taking off their compulsory head coverings and burning them. It is an absolute civil disobedience on all levels of society that is uniting Iranians from all ethnic, cultural and religious groups under this one uniform slogan of 'women, life, freedom'.
CT: Has this unity surprised you?
MB: We have had the dictatorial rule of a theocratic regime for decades now. As soon as they took power over four decades ago, the first thing they did was to impose their own religious interpretation on everyone. It began with the closing of the churches and other religious groups, and killing off a lot of the Baha'i and Christian leaders. On a social level they imposed their own moral codes. Compulsory hijabs for women was one of the very first things they did to subdue the people. Now people are going back to that very first act of oppression and are reclaiming what they lost from the very beginning, which is their freedom to choose: choose what to wear, choose what to believe, choose how to live. That sums up the whole discontent.
CT: Were you disappointed by the reaction of Iran's supreme leader when he sided with the police?
MB: We've come to expect it, but it's not one person, it's a system. His hold on power is to maintain his position and not give way, so people have realised there's no chance for any reform under him and we really need to see him go.
CT: In Iran all women have to wear the hijab. How do Christian women feel about having to wear it? Does it bother them?
MB: Absolutely. That is one of the forms of discrimination against them. Many Iranians are not aware that they don't have the right to religious freedom until they choose to exercise that freedom and believe differently. Then they will feel the full anger of the Iranian authorities and realise that this right has been taken away from them years ago. The hijab comes from that time of the Iranian ruling elite dictating their religious beliefs on everyone else. People want to choose differently. They don't want it to be up to the Iranian authorities to choose for them.
CT: Christians are taking part in these protests not only internationally but within Iran. Christians in Iran are heavily persecuted already so does taking part in these protests increase the risk to them?
MB: It does, but to be honest, Christians are people of risk. That's what the early church did, that's what Christ himself exemplified, and when you see the bonds of oppression, whether it's spiritual, physical, political or social, the Church has to be at the forefront of this and not just stand at the back of the queue. It has to speak the truth and hold fallen systems accountable for the injustices they are carrying out on people.
CT: Is it too early to call this a watershed moment? Do you think it could actually lead to significant change for Iran?
MB: Many of us hope and pray so. During World War II, Winston Churchill said, "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." We are almost there and I hope that enough blood has been shed and there will be an end to it. This government has lost legitimacy inside the country and acted like a bully to many other countries across the region, like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, threatening them with instability, but also globally with its nuclear ambition. I think it's time for the world to see greater peace in that region.
CT: What would you like UK Christians to pray for?
MB: Many are calling from inside the country not to be forgotten. People in authority have to respond and hold the Iranian government to account to stop the bloodshed. In the UK, we have a female prime minister and so far she has not spoken one word about the liberating movement in a country that is so strategic in our international relations. It is time for us to move beyond lip service in our policies and really back the democratic movements that seek rights for women and minorities, and ensure that the democratic values that we hold so dear here are demonstrated in how we respond to these situations. It's not time to cosy up to dictators.