The sister of Hadis Najafi, a 22-year-old woman who was killed by Iranian security forces, wants the world to know exactly why her sister was driven to put her life on the line.
Hadis was taking part in protests that have shaken the country to its core, when she was killed by six bullets. She only wanted “basic rights” and “a comfortable life with peace in the country where we were born,” Afsun Najafi, 30, told The Daily Beast.
“My sister was a child. She was only 22 years old and full of hope and desire… there was no need for so many shots,” she said.
Hadis, an avid TikToker, was killed on Sept. 21 after taking to the streets of Tehran to protest the death of another 22-year-old Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini.
Amini’s death at the hands of Iran’s “Guidance Patrol” on Sept. 16—after allegedly being severely beaten for breaking the country’s mandatory hijab laws—has sparked ongoing civil unrest throughout the country. More than 200 protesters have died in the demonstrations and riots so far after harsh government crackdowns, according to Iran Human Rights.
Afsun told The Daily Beast that Mahsa’s death affected her sister deeply, so much so that she felt compelled to join the demonstrations despite the risk of violent clashes that often take place at anti-government protests in Iran.
“She was crying,” Afsun said of her sister after news of Mahsa’s death broke. “She was looking at Mahsa Amini’s photos and she was crying. She was very upset about it and went to the protest.”
The day Hadis was killed was a blur, Afsun said. She told The Daily Beast that her sister went to the demonstration at around 7:30 p.m. local time. Just an hour and a half later, her family received a call from a hospital worker informing them that Hadis was injured. The family did not learn of her death until 3 a.m.
“I just screamed and ran to the street… I was crying. Hadis and I were roommates... we slept together at night and talked until morning. She was my best friend,” Afsun told The Daily Beast.
In the aftermath of her death, Hadis has become a symbol for protests across Iran, much like Mahsa. But now, the Najafi family is growing increasingly worried that they could be targeted by the Iranian government themselves.
“My family and I have no security. We are constantly stressed and have nightmares,” said Afsun.
But like scores of other citizens, they’re not letting that fear stop them from speaking out about the systemic injustice women in Iran are forced to deal with on a daily basis.
“Iranian women do not have civil rights. We Iranian women do not want rules for our bodies,” a 42-year-old Iranian photographer, who has participated in the protests and has asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told The Daily Beast. “Iranian women do not have the right to sing and dance in places where men are present. They have taken the least of freedoms from us, that is the right to choose our hijab.”
“I hope that countries like the United States will hear the cry of the Iranian people,” she added.
Another Iranian woman, who also asked to be anonymous for fear of retaliation, echoed similar sentiments about the demonstrations and the resilience of those who are protesting across the nation.
“The average age of protesters is mostly very young or teenage girls,” she told The Daily Beast. “That's what makes me proud. That’s what makes me feel like I have to do something. I have to pay my dues to these new generations.”
She explained why some protesters have decided to cut their hair as a symbol of strength and resistance.
“We, Iranian girls, love our hair,” she said. “Cutting this means we are willing to sacrifice everything that we have. It’s a part of our body we are willing to cut just to show the world we don’t even care. This is how we show that we are strong. We are opposing and we want what we want. We want our rights. We want our freedom. This is how we want to live.”
In the wake of the tragic killing of her young sister, Najafi remains hopeful for a brighter future for the women of Iran.
“I am very hopeful,” Najafi told The Daily Beast. “I don’t know what will happen, but my sister’s soul must rest in peace, not only my sister but all the dead.”