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What changed one Iranian woman's mind on the protests in her country

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We mostly know the protests in Iran through postings on social media. Iranians have evaded internet controls to publish images of people on the streets. Understandably, the videos are often shot from behind people so we do not see their faces. Almost anybody could face arrest. But here on the radio, we're able to hear one Iranian's story. Here's NPR's Peter Kenyon.

(SOUNDBITE OF CANISTER LAUNCHING)

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: That's a video featuring the sound of tear gas being fired in a residential neighborhood of Tehran. One resident cries out, quote, "You have turned our homes into a war field." The demonstrations, often led by women, were sparked by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman also known by her Kurdish name, Jina. Amini had been detained by Iran's morality police for alleged improper attire. The protest spread from Iran's largely Kurdish northwest to cities across the country. Iranians who had never thought of joining an anti-government demonstration got swept up in the movement, demanding at first reforms and then the toppling of Iran's cleric-led government. One of those people is Marieh, a woman in her late 30s who lives in a city northeast of Tehran. Reached via the internet, she agreed to an interview if her family name isn't used because she's worried she might be arrested for speaking to the media on a sensitive subject. Marieh says when the protests began in mid-September, she didn't pay much attention. But when the internet started getting interrupted, she realized that the demonstrations were big and getting bigger.

MARIEH: (Through interpreter) The first days and nights, we were scared to join the protests or even to express our objections openly on our social media pages. But the longer they went on, the more we saw that the solidarity and unity are really high. And we are not alone in our protests.

KENYON: Despite the warnings from friends to stay away from the protests or face a possible prison sentence, Marieh soon found herself part of the crowd - thanks, she says, to her teenage son, who had briefly been detained by police at a protest.

MARIEH: (Through interpreter) When we arrived, they had already released him, but my son insisted that he had to join the protesters. So his father and I decided to stay next to him and join the protest, at least for accompanying our son.

KENYON: Marieh grows emotional as she remembers her first night at a protest in Shardari Square.

MARIEH: (Through interpreter) People had so much passion and excitement that it was impossible to contain such a wave. That night was the first night I joined the protests, and I saw in front of my eyes how they were shooting people.

KENYON: She says a woman was shot right in front of her, and her son injured himself as they escaped. That night, she says, she and her husband became part of the protest movement. Marieh can't say enough about the bravery and the intelligence of the young Iranians she sees out on the streets, including her son. She says they have inspired older generations to gather their courage and join them, even as the crackdown by security forces has grown harsher with the threat of worse to come.

MARIEH: (Through interpreter) Maybe if we hadn't been silent in past years, the situation would not have worsened this much. We can at least stop being silent now and support each other more.

KENYON: But with a thousand people facing trials, some reportedly receiving the death penalty, clearly the government is trying to send a message that it's willing to do whatever it takes to quell the protests.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

(SOUNDBITE OF WILLIAM RYAN FRITCH'S "SCATTERED FLOCKS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.