Minnesota vigils mourn Mahsa Amini, whose death sparked protests in Iran

People arrange flowers in front of memorial
Protesters arrange flowers Thursday at a makeshift memorial on the University of Minnesota campus for Mahsa Amini, who died after being arrested by Iran’s morality police earlier this month.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Demonstrators plan to gather in downtown Minneapolis on Saturday to protest the death of a 22-year-old woman in Iran earlier this month.

That's after a vigil for Mahsa Amini was held on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus on Thursday evening.

Amini was detained in Tehran by the country’s morality police, an element of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces that enforces the country’s strict dress code. Amini was arrested for allegedly wearing her hijab too loosely. She was taken into police custody, and then to a hospital shortly after where she died on Sept. 16.

Her family alleges that she was beaten by police, which caused her death, based on eyewitness accounts. Iranian law enforcement officials have denied those claims, saying Amini had a heart attack. Her father is accusing authorities of a cover-up.

Since then, demonstrations have taken place across Iran, with some women cutting their hair and burning their hijabs in protest. Amnesty International has reported several deaths and hundreds of injuries as security forces in Iran have tried to suppress the largely peaceful protests. There have also been reports that social media and certain websites have been blocked by Iranian officials.

And the protests and vigils in the wake of Amini's death have spread to other countries — including the U.S.

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People stand around a memorial
Protesters gather at a makeshift memorial for Mahsa Amini outside Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

At a vigil Thursday night at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Memorial Union, demonstrators chanted “Say her name, Mahsa Amini.” Organizers said they hope the event, along with the larger demonstration scheduled for Saturday, will help people understand the difference between the Iranian people and the regime.

“We are two different beings, we have two different mindsets, and we are in clashes for more than 40 years, at the very moment,” said Faraz Samavat, one of the organizers. “We want the whole global community to gather around to help us fight off this oppressive regime, and to allow Iran to regain back its independence and sovereignty from the theocracy.”

A man speaks into a megaphone
Faraz Samavat (center) leads protest chants in Persian during a rally in response to Mahsa Amini’s death outside Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Samavat said this isn’t the first time in the past decade that people in Iran have stood against the government. But it is one of the few to get widespread media attention.

In a statement Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced the U.S. is imposing sanctions “on Iran’s Morality Police and senior security officials who have engaged in serious human rights abuses.”

Saturday’s demonstration is set to take place in downtown Minneapolis in the afternoon, with organizers gathering at Nicollet Mall and 11th Street.

Correction (September 23, 2022): A caption in a previous version of this story misidentified the language in which a sign was written and a word on the sign. The caption has been updated.