Posted on: December 5, 2022 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Graphic by Aidan McGuire

By Aidan McGuire, Multimedia Editor

People across the world are fighting for their beliefs, even if the consequences could be deadly. 

In authoritarian China, citizens held up blank sheets of paper to symbolize what they could do or say about President Xi Jinping’s restrictive zero-COVID policy: nothing. Meanwhile, in Iran, Mehran Samak was shot and killed after honking his car horn in celebration of Iran’s loss in the World Cup, a protest over his country’s brutal regime.

Both scenarios have people risking their lives and livelihoods over free speech.

“I’ve been inspired by the willingness of people to protest, as the consequences can be harsh in China,” said Moraine political science professor Kevin Navratil.

“I think it demonstrates that people are very frustrated with the Chinese government and particularly the leadership of Xi Jinping. I think the restrictive zero-COVID policy has exhausted many people in China.” 

The protests stemmed from an apartment fire that took place in Urumqi. The video spread across social media like wildfire, and citizens took to the streets. Some believed the COVID restrictions led to a delay in putting out the fire, which killed 10 people, according to ABC. Navratil says the 20 percent youth unemployment rate in China is also contributing, destroying a pact citizens have made with the government: a booming economy in exchange for political silence. 

“I think recent protests in China have been the most significant since Tiananmen Square in 1989 and at a minimum, will lead to greater reflection from the Xi regime in loosening COVID restrictions,” Navratil said.

The event is drawing many comparisons to Tiananmen, but Newsweek’s Beijing bureau chief, Melinda Liu, doesn’t believe it’s apt. In an article on the website Foreign Policy, she writes that a massacre such as the one following what happened in 1989 is unlikely. She says the outcome isn’t as foreseeable as many think.

“I worry for the actual protestors, as it is clear the Chinese government will punish them severely,” Navratil said. “It is hard to compare current protests to ones in the past, as the surveillance state in China is so omnipresent, giving the government the ability to track protestors, prevent people from using public transportation and crack down on protests before they can gain momentum.”

The same day, Iranians cheered against Iran during their World Cup game versus the U.S. to protest against the Iranian regime.

“[Celebrating the US victory] is not something you would want to do in a country that has such a huge resentment toward the United States,” MV student Ghali Elhoumaidi said. 

These people are heroes. It’s not easy when you do that in a totalitarian regime like Iran–you’re putting a lot on the line. Your whole life could be destroyed.”

MV Student Ghali Elhoumaidi

The World Cup protests are a continuation of protests regarding the killing of Mahsa Amini. Amini was arrested for violating the dress code in Iran, allegedly exposing some of her hair with her hijab. She died in the hospital, police claiming it was because of heart failure. However, the Iranian people believe she was brutally beaten by Iran’s morality police, whose sole duty is to enforce Iran’s strict dress code for women: loose-fitting clothing and hair covered.

“These people are heroes. It’s not easy when you do that in a totalitarian regime like Iran–you’re putting a lot on the line,” Elhoumaidi said. “Your whole life could be destroyed, your ability to find employment or education.”

Yet despite these dangers, the people in Iran are not afraid to speak up.

“It is surprising, considering the history between the U.S. and Iran and the pride of the Iranian people,” Navratil said. “However, we should never underestimate the desire of young people to fight for a better future of political rights and economic mobility.”

With 60 percent of Iran’s population under 30, Navratil believes Iran “is ripe for change,” with the younger generation seeking a better future. 

This better future will not come without risks, however.

“I don’t blame someone for not protesting,” Elhoumaidi said. “[But] if you can assume the consequences, go for it.”