Today ARTICLE 19, alongside YouTube and Amnesty International UK, are proud to commemorate one of the icons of Iran’s youth- and women-led movement: Sarina Esmailzadeh. Sarina was 16 years old when she was killed by the Islamic Republic’s security forces on 23 September 2022, a week into the nationwide popular uprising in the wake of Mahsa Jhina Amini’s murder. She would have turned 17 on 2 July 2023.
‘Sarina’s death serves as a reminder of the Iranian authorities’ all-out attack on children,’ said ARTICLE19 Executive Director Quinn McKew, ‘and child protesters who fearlessly took to the streets in search of a future without political oppression, inequality and tyranny. Her legacy and her brave expression encapsulates the fight for freedom perfectly.’
The death toll of those unlawfully killed on the streets following the popular uprising that rocked Iran from September 2022 is in the hundreds, with at least 44 individually identified children killed. The total number of people detained in connection with the protests was above 22,000, with state media reporting that children made up a significant portion of this number. Many fell victim to a judicial process that systemically denies fair trial rights, and a state security apparatus that relies on torture and other ill-treatment to break the spirit of detainees, obtain forced ‘confessions’ and push through sham trials. Child protesters as young as 12 have been subjected to widespread commission of torture including rape, flogging and electric shocks in detention. This can only reveal a deliberate strategy to crush the vibrant spirit of Iran’s youth. Horrifyingly, seven protesters have been arbitrarily executed to date, with at least 7 more individuals under sentence of death in relation to the protests.
Despite the brutal and public state crackdown, the bravery and lack of fear displayed by protesters and dissidents, led by women and youth, and continuing today, 10 months into this movement, continues to be poignant. What started as an outbreak of nationwide protests against decades of state impunity has evolved into a campaign of mass civil disobedience, most notably as women and girls continue to defy mandatory hijab laws en-masse by appearing in public unveiled. The revolutionary rallying cry ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’, which has its origins in the Kurdish feminist movement, continues to be seen and heard across Iran – and indeed across the world.
While state violence remains almost a certainty, the lack of fear against the authorities has been one of the most powerful weapons the Iranian people wield against a regime that endures through brute force and intimidation. A part of this bravery are the forms of dissident expression, from protests to social media posts and videos. This defiance is now the DNA of a generation and movement that will not subside until it achieves its end result: freedom and the overthrow of tyranny.
This is one of the reasons why Sarina is so important. Sarina’s YouTube vlogs, her intelligent observations, ambitions and joy for life, music, cooking, and the arts have become part of the fabric of what her generation have been rising up against and for.
Despite the tragedy of her death, the legacy of her digital footprint remains strong.
Read the YouTube commemorations to Sarina Esmailzadeh from ARTICLE 19’s Mahsa Alimardani and Amnesty International UK’s Nina Navid.