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PICTORIAL STORY

November 30, 2022

GERMAN VOICES CRYING OUT FOR FREEDOM

SUPPORTING THE REVOLUTION: WOMEN, LIFE, FREEDOM IN IRAN

Photography and Story by Paola Ferrarotti
Introduction by Karin Svadlenak Gomez

Paola Ferrarotti is an Argentinian photographer living in Germany. Her early love for photojournalism was displaced by her studies of political science and international relations. More recently though, she has picked up her old passion again and is now using her photographic eye both to document life, and to create photo art.

For this poignant story, Paola has documented the growing protest movements taking place in Germany in support of freedom for Iran's women, and against violence against women. We wanted to support Paola's project and publish the series at a time when the media focus is on these events, and also on the prevention of violence against women more generally. We are in the middle of "orange the world", an annual campaign event of awareness raising and advocacy against all forms of violence against women.

The United Nations General Assembly has designated November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The date was chosen to mark the 1960 assassination of the three Mirabal sisters, who were ordered killed by the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo because of their political activism.

The protests now going on for the freedom of women in Iran were sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish Iranian woman who had been arrested by the Iranian morality police in September who accused her for not wearing her hijab properly. She died in hospital shortly thereafter. The Iranian government has been cracking down on protesters with severity. A recent report of the UN Human Rights Council stated that more than 14,000 people have been arrested in connection with the protests and some of them face the death penalty. And yet people continue to protest, in more than 150 cities all over Iran, and the protest waves are finding support in countries around the world.

Paola tells a gripping and very current story in her own words.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,
tied in a single garment of destiny.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail.


It all started with a photograph.

Towards the end of the 1980s, my mother, a French translator, regularly received the magazines Le Figaro and Paris Match. I was a primary school girl, always curious and a lover of books, magazines and everything that contained letters and photographs.

One day, leafing through these French magazines that my mother used to read, trying to practice my basic French, I came across, I don’t remember in which of those two magazines, an image that has remained etched in my mind to this day.

I remember that my first impression was of a fallen man in the snow. I was so struck by those white balls that looked like snow and that bloody fallen man that I couldn’t take my eyes off the photo that, if I remember correctly, occupied two pages. Trying to understand what had happened I began to read the note and was immediately horrified. The photo before my eyes was of a man who had been stoned to death in Iran. My mother explained to me, in the most delicate way possible but without lying to me, that a man from a distant country had been executed by throwing stones at him until he was killed. And he was photographed like that, lying, with his eyes closed and blood on his head between white stones.

Until that moment I knew nothing about Iran, the Islamic Revolution or such a cruel and bloody way of executing a person as stoning. That photo was etched in my mind and to this day, if I close my eyes, I remember it.

Death by stoning.

Many years later, at university, when I was studying Political Science and International Relations, I began to study the Middle East, a region that attracted me from the beginning of my studies because of its complexity due to its social, economic, political, ethnic, cultural, and religious characteristics. In the last stage of my studies, having to choose a topic, I chose the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

Iran was still there, calling me, and I tried to learn more about its history and the events after the Islamic Revolution. Because the Islamic Revolution with its cruelty had impacted me as a child and in my university years, that memory was still there, latent. The Dictatorial Regime of the Islamic Revolution was an event I wanted to learn more about, despite living in Argentina with the physical and cultural distance that this implies.

Later, after finishing my studies, my life, following an intercontinental move, changed its course completely. My path took me into Spanish Linguistics and Literature and the teaching of these subjects.

But my interest in political science and international relations never disappeared. And in particular, my interest in the Middle East, that region as fascinating to me as it is chaotic, never died out.

And so I continued my life, always reading the news, always trying to stay informed about world events, including those in the Middle East.

It all continued with photography.

Linguistics, literature, an interest in world affairs, world problems, all that, and of course many other things were there in my life, when at the beginning of 2020, I added photography to my list of interests. Photography, a practice that I had always liked but had never consciously dedicated myself to. And that’s when I realised that it awakened a passion in me and that, in turn, I could combine it with my other passions.

And so, slowly, I got into photography, which, by capturing crucial events in process, allows us to document a fact that may be about human beings, animal life, forests, rivers or any other aspect of the natural world. This documentary photography caught me and awakened in me an interest in learning to take pictures with an emotional character, showing universal experiences and interests.

Since the beginning of the year 2020, taking my first steps in photography, I began, without realizing it, a path where all my interests were coming together, giving birth to something that, still with a lot to learn, I am passionate about.

Photography can be used as a tool to promote awareness of events that are physically distant from us, thus awakening our interest, our empathy, our support and bringing us closer together as human beings, inhabitants of the same planet.

Likewise, in the media, photography is a key element for the contextualization of the event narrated, even more, it can weigh as much as an article as it is information in itself.

Nowadays, in a world in which we live connected at all times and in any place through mobile devices, the presence of images that bring us closer to a current social issue, however distant it may be from us, and that awaken our interest, is of immense value in generating, if necessary, a universal social conscience, that is, a social conscience of solidarity with the struggle for the fundamental rights inherent to the human condition.

Two new photographs took me back to Iran.

On 16 September 2022, a photo of Mahsa Jina Amini was published, a 22-year-old Iranian woman of Kurdish descent, who was being treated at Tehran’s Kasra Hospital after being arrested and severely beaten three days earlier by Iran’s morality police for allegedly wearing her mandatory hijab inappropriately. On the same day, and around Amini’s death, a second photo was tweeted, this time of Amini’s parents hugging and crying in the hospital. That photo quickly spread, along with the report of Amini’s death.

From that day on, many protests started to erupt over the death of a 22-year-old girl whose crime was not having her hair properly covered. These protests, which spread nationwide, were soon severely repressed by the regime’s security forces. These protests, today, several weeks after they began, and despite the harshness and cruelty of the repression by the country’s dictatorship, are still standing and spreading.

The duration and spread of the demonstrations to all parts of the country and to almost all strata of the population testify to a deep-seated discontent and anger that goes beyond the rejection of the regime’s deeply restrictive dress code for women. The causes also lie in a social situation that has been worsening for years for large sections of the population and in massive repression. Anger over Amini’s death has brought to the streets all the indignation accumulated over the years against a cruel dictatorship that deprives its citizens of freedoms and is aggravated by growing political corruption, poverty, unemployment and inflation.

Photographs of grief, empathy and support.

The death of a young woman at the hands of the Morality Police sparked an unprecedented protest movement in Iran. People started to come out and shout more united than ever after 43 years of tyranny “enough” “down with the Islamic Republic”.

Iran appeared united, courageous, outraged, tired of silencing what is wrong, shouting and fighting for the right to live free and facing strong government repression.

And so, seeing an Iran in turmoil, Iranians in exile began to take to the streets to show their pain, their solidarity, their empathy and their support for the struggle for freedom.

Today, two revolutions are underway against the Islamic Republic’s regime, one internal, which despite heavy repression does not seem to be letting up, and the other external, which demands actions from Western governments.

Marches in solidarity with the protests in Iran are continuously taking place in many cities around the world. Exiled Iranians and more and every day more people from other
places are coming together to shout for freedom in unison.

Iranians in exile are driven by their love for their land, their people and their culture. The repudiation of the regime and the corrupt theocratic clique that rules Iran is shared and supported abroad by the millions of Iranians in exile.

The Kurdish chant “Jin Jiyan Azadi”, originating from Jîna (Mahsa) Amini’s hometown in Kurdistan and translated into Persian as “Zan Zendegi Azadi”, “Women, Life, Freedom”, has become the main slogan of the current movement, both at home and abroad.

More than 270,000 people of Iranian origin live in Germany. Most of them are waiting for the fall of the regime. The Iranian revolution raises hopes in exile. Iranians in exile in Germany take to the streets of the country’s cities to raise their voices and demonstrate and demand support.

Today, the future is uncertain and freedom seems distant, but we are witnessing a historic social movement inside and outside Iran that will undoubtedly be of great importance for the future of the country, the Middle East and the world.

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The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and are not necessarily shared by The Pictorial List and the team.