Roya Piraei, 25, was living with her parents in the city of Kermanshah, Iran, when protests began over the death in police custody of Mahsa (Jina) Amini, a young Iranian Kurdish woman charged with wearing her headscarf improperly. On Sept. 20, Roya’s mother, Minoo Majidi, was chanting slogans with other protestors when security forces on motorbikes shot her at close range. She died with 167 shotgun pellets in her back.
Roya left the country for her safety after the funeral. A young woman of intelligence and grace, she told me that the death of her mother was “like a hurricane, it took away everything. The Roya from before my mother’s death is gone,” she said. “I think I have been buried with her.” She spoke from France about her grief and her hopes for Iran’s future.
How are you coping with the shock?
The wound in my heart, it is like it is becoming new every day. I am trying to be stable. But it’s really hard. I have to move forward, because I should do my best to be a voice for the silenced voice of my mom and the other people who are being killed. She gave her life for what she believed in. She was seeking freedom and justice for Mahsa and all the young generation like me.
What was it like for you growing up in Iran?
I’m not saying that I had a normal life. Nobody has a normal life under the control of the Islamic Republic. But I really appreciated my family, because I never felt like I should be something that I’m not around them. I was free to think and do what I liked. The pressure was more from society, from the government. Before all this happened, I was really close to my family. I felt so blessed. Through all this darkness [of] what the Islamic Republic did to our society, we had each other, we loved each other.
There have been protests before. What do you feel is different this time?
This uprising started with demanding freedom for women. The death of Mahsa was like a spark. We were struggling with a lot of things: corruption in all organizations—in the education system, in politics and the economy, in the administration—everywhere, everything. Now all the ethnicities from everywhere around Iran are united. All the people want to take back their country. Men and women fighting alongside each other, and that’s a huge thing. Because everyone knows that demanding freedom for women leads to freedom for all society.
What is the hope of what is possible? What would you like to see?
I’m not a politician. I can just answer from what I’ve seen and heard. The main thing is that people don’t want a regime that is killing citizens. I have hope, because I think that there are a lot of decent, educated people in Iran, and a Generation Z that have great potential. All I can say is that I believe in my people.
I hope that however long it takes— and I hope it’s soon—that there is change and that there is peace for women.
It’s a long way, but they won’t go back into that darkness. They have realized that this regime can’t be fixed, so I think their unity is the key to victory and to win this revolution.
Another thing is the support that other countries can have for us. Everyone in the opposition says that the Islamic Republic must be isolated, that diplomats should be expelled from abroad. I know that our voice has been loud, and everyone has started to see us, instead of the mullahs and the Islamic Republic. We are the representatives of Iran, not them.
If it is not too painful to ask, what was your mom like?
My mother, she always believed in freedom. She cared about human beings. She was really patient, because of her big heart and kindness. She liked sports, literature, and for a while she did some horseback riding. She was a really active person. She was full of life. We shared everything. I lost the dearest person in my life, and that’s why I feel they killed me as well.
Not many mothers and daughters are thrust into fighting side by side for women and freedom. I’m sure you know that she’d be so proud of the way you are handling this moment.
I really try to believe in that, but sometimes I feel so numb. It’s a pity that we are losing all these precious people at the hands of these murderers.
I know there are no words to match this moment. I lost my mother [to cancer], but I had years to say goodbye to her. It wasn’t another person who took her from me, or who made excuses for her murder.
Loss is a big deal. I have never lost anyone before. But this is not normal. As you said, no one took your mom away, and you had time to say goodbye to her. Nothing about my mother’s death is normal. A lot of people who have lost their dear ones, were pressured by the Islamic Republic to tell lies. Some of them were imprisoned. They have even stolen the bodies of their dear ones.
It’s unthinkable cruelty. I really do pray that for all the courage and sacrifice, something new will be born that has light and freedom.
There will be, because we have paid for it with our dear ones. With lives. So it’s not going to be wasted.