Women. Life. Freedom. This is the message of protest that has swelled since 16th September when Mahsa (Jina) Amini, a‑22 year-old Kurdish woman, was killed by police in custody for wearing her hijab in an “inappropriate” way.
Sparking a national uprising in Iran, Kurds and Iranians have been on the streets demanding a free country, a fair government and the abolition of compulsory hijab, facing violent opposition from a state that has resorted to shutting the internet down to limit communication.
Women. Life. Freedom. This is also the name of a two-day, globally linked up stream, which concludes tonight. The stream, part of the Sonic Liberation Front initiative, has been organised by the Palestinian community radio station Radio Alhara, which has curated a line up of all-Iranian women and non-binary artists, DJs and producers in solidarity for Mahsa Amini and the right of women to choose in Iran and across the globe.
Radio Alhara (Alhara meaning neighbourhood) was founded out of quarantine boredom in 2020 by Elias Anastas and his brother Yousef, Yazan Khalili, Saeed Jaber and Mothanna Hussein. The popularity of the station grew quickly, with shows being broadcast in Arabic, English and French.
Sonic Liberation Front began as a daily Radio Alhara program based on field recordings recorded by the artist Dirar. “It then grew into this movement of solidarity where people, institutions, collectives across the world took over the radio for a period of a day and curated line-ups of artists that wanted to stand in solidarity with Palestine,” Elias explains. “It [is] also an opportunity for other marginalised parts of the world to speak out about their form of injustice and/or oppression they’re living.”
Regarding this week’s Sonic Liberation Front stream, Pouya explains on the Instagram post over the all female and non-binary line-up: “In a climate where the Iranian regime is spreading fear to prevent Iranian people from raising their voice. These are the voices the Islamic Republic wishes to silence. These are the voices that used to be sung in private and are now shouting together in a fog of tear gas, in the middle of fire. These are the voices that lead Iran to freedom.”
Sonic Liberation Front’s stream is being mirrored through a network of stations including Refuge Worldwide and Cashmere in Berlin, NTS and Netil in London, Disco Tehran, Movement Athens and more. THE FACE spoke with co-founders Pouya and Elias Anastas, as well as DJs taking part in the stream – AZADI.mp3, Sahar Homami and Anahita Shamsaei about their involvement in the stream and the importance to raise awareness globally
Why did you get involved in this Sonic Liberation Front broadcast?
Anahita Shamsaei: As a female artist growing up in a super patriarchal country, [Radio Alhara has given] me the chance and the courage to express myself with techno and bass. Techno is my protest. I always believe music is one key tool to fight and raise awareness of discrimination, inequality and injustice. What is happening now has been a long oppression towards women and ethnic minorities of all kinds, and they have always been silenced. As a simple example, female Iranian singers are not allowed to sing in their homeland.
Where is your stream happening from?
AZADI.mp3: I’m streaming from London, trying to soundscape the noises of daily life into something bigger and unexplainable.
How’s the atmosphere been while you’ve been streaming?
Pouya: It’s been great to see so many people come together and collectively listen to the same sound. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions, these mixes have conjured up sorrow, hope, nostalgia and power in us listening to them.
One banner the protestors are using is “We are All Mahsa” – can you tell me what this slogan means to you?
Anahita: Mahsa Zhina Amini – who was a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian –was killed by the ‘morality police’. Her basic human rights were denied. In fact, this is what the majority of women [in Iran] experience on a daily basis. Being scared of the police and being forced not to be yourself and being censored, is the main reason why we are all Mahsa. They shut us up, but, of course, we won’t shut up.
Pouya: The interconnectivity of human beings is a subject that resurfaces over and over again in our everyday lives, in our socio-political relations and in environmental awareness. As Martin Luther King has said: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the streets of Iran, Gaza, Libya or the USA. If anyone’s right to freedom and life is taken from them anywhere in the world, it is a threat to all humanity no matter if it is Jina from Kurdistan or George Floyd from Minneapolis.
Sahar: Mahsa Amini was a young woman brutally killed by the state. Just like they have been throughout history, women are continuing to be the driving force behind change that ensures their rights are upheld. People from all across the gender spectrum, particularly Gen Z, are stepping up and protesting are a testament to their resilience and bravery in the face of a criminal state. The union in these protests is evidence of the desire for a society that’s ready to grow out of violent patriarchy.
We are all human beings that deserve dignity, respect and freedom to live our lives, and Mahsa was robbed of that so casually. It could have been any of us, and it has been many of us.
Why do you think the terrible news of what happened to Mahsa Amini has sparked such momentum of resistance?
Sahar: Iranian “semi-authoritarian” governance has imposed decades of oppression on gender, ethnic and religious minorities (Mahsa Amini was Kurdish Iranian herself), in addition to Iranians at large. There is multi-layered oppression, coupled with ongoing economic issues, as well as the shattering of any hope for reform.
This movement originated as a result of decades of oppression against women* in Iran. While protests are not new in Iran, the fact that the current movement is being led by a younger generation is unparalleled and significant. The protests give way to the idea that people are looking to create a world where there is reduced divisions between gender, ethnicity, and classes of the society.
The demands are very clear. They demand freedom of thought, expression and action in social, political, cultural and artistic aspects of life.
With internet blackouts happening at the same time as increased hostility from the Iranian government, are you concerned about what is happening losing both domestic momentum and international visibility?
Anahita: Firstly, Iranians have always been proactive towards their beliefs and their freedom of choice. In 1979 when there was the Islamic revolution, there was no internet but people managed to get what they want. However, this time is different, even if they shut all the internet down, people still know how to come up with different ways to be connected to the world. Although it is important the international community pays attention and constantly recognises these socio-political movements. Therefore it is truly important to constantly raise awareness.
Sahar: There’s no question it will have an impact on the movement, but the struggle for liberation is bigger than this issue. People on the inside have continued to encourage each other, despite the internet access being down. It’s important to push through the difficulties and continue to build a strong movement, because people are waking up internationally and understanding that this is not just a domestic issue. We’re building global momentum. We need international visibility more than ever because if we don’t break out of this box and get outside of it, then this government can continue to do as they have previously. The more visibility we get, the more pressure we put on the politicians.
Why is radio an effective tool for protest and solidarity?
Sahar: There’s a reason that the term “the radio” is used to refer to someone’s station. It provides a powerful platform for those who want to create positive change and unite people through their music, speeches, and podcasts. Radio is an affordable medium for reaching out to millions of listeners, whether it be through a radio station or online radio. Alternative media platforms help to showcase the nuances that are not portrayed by oppressive narratives in mainstream media.
AZADI.mp3: Radio has a sense of tangibility, a kind of access that translates the digital into the physically accessible. Now, more than ever we see my people straining so that their voices can be heard over stringent censorship. In this particular case Radio is the perfect medium for that. You have to sit, listen and bear witness.
Anahita: Bringing 20 amazing female Iranian artists together in one big radio platform it constructs unity and solidarity in general. However this is a great platform to be the voice of Iran, and specifically, this movement which is defined by three pillars “ WOMEN, LIFE, FREEDOM” clearly shows for the first time we are experiencing one of the biggest feminist movements in modern history.
Sahar: There are many ways ordinary people can echo and amplify the voice of Iranians. The first thing to do is to tune into this radio stream and spread it to as many people as you can. Next is contacting your representatives to put global pressure on Iranian government. And – it goes without saying – make sure you are getting factually correct news about what’s happening inside Iran.