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How Iran’s repression machine works

And the protesters rising up against it.

Christina Thornell is a senior producer for the Vox video team.

The death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s “morality police” on September 16, 2022 sparked major protests in Iran. The morality police arrested Amini for improperly wearing her hijab, and after they allegedly beat her, she fell into a coma and died. Protests began by asking for accountability. They’re now demanding regime change.

In theory, Iranians have a democratic branch they can use to fight for change under the regime. But it’s actually all part of the same power structure controlled by Iran’s autocratic supreme leader. Iranians are forced to voice their objections in the streets because the system that protects the morality police, the supreme leader, and the entire power structure of Iran was designed to fight dissent.

During the 1979 revolution, the Iranian military declared neutrality. This led to the shah’s downfall, but it also caused the supreme leader to decide he needed a whole new loyal army to protect himself and his ideology. It’s this other arm of Iran’s power system that is also out on the streets, cracking down on protesters, hoping to keep the existing structure in place — the same system many Iranians have been fighting against for 40 years. Watch the video above to learn more.

This video simplifies Iran’s power structure to focus on the elements relevant to our story and the ongoing protests. There’s a lot more to learn about — to explore the full power structure of Iran and all its branches, we recommend this guide from the United States Institute of Peace.

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