THE protests in Iran over recent weeks show the weakness inherent in authoritarian regimes. You can crack down, beat, or even kill protesters – but in the end, you only harm your society and the lives of the people you are supposed to help make better.

I have never been to Iran, but I have been fascinated by it ever since I grew up on the other side of the Gulf, in Saudi Arabia, during the late 70s and early 80s. Iran is a place with a deep history and heritage. Iran had, and arguably still has, a relatively active civic society, a high level of civic engagement by the standards of the region, and a well-educated society. Current government aside (a big ask, I know), we should not discount the potential for Iran to be a positive influence in the region, should it manage to alter its leadership which remains locked into a ruinous set of policies at home and abroad.

The latest example is the tragic death of Mahsa Amini, which was the flashpoint which brought the Iranian people out to the streets in protest. We need to be clear – this was state-sponsored femicide. It is a simple fact – she was killed because she was a woman. On September 16, as she was shopping with relatives in Tehran, Ms Amini was detained by Iran’s infamous “morality police” for allegedly wearing her hijab too loosely. Police officers then reportedly beat her head with a baton, banged her head against one of their police vehicles, and “tortured and insulted” her, leading to her falling into a coma in police custody and later dying in hospital.

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Her death at the hands of the authorities has sparked outrage across Iran. The subsequent protests have been the largest anti-government movement in several years throughout the country. Regardless of gender, ethnicity, social class, and political affiliation, citizens from Iran’s 31 provinces have taken to the streets to voice their anger at the Iranian regime. Clashes between civilians and security forces are widespread, and the authorities have reported that more than 40 people have been killed so far. At the time of writing, Iran Human Rights (a Norway-based group) has said at least 133 people have been killed by security forces.

The protests see little sign of abating, as does the regime’s violent and disproportionate means to break them up. Tear gas and mass arrests have been deployed to quell demonstrations, whilst footage appears to show security personnel firing live ammunition on demonstrators in the north-western cities of Mahabad, Piranshahr and Urmia (where swathes of Iran’s Kurdish population live).

On Sunday night, security forces cornered and shot a number of students at Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology. The Islamic Association of Sharif University students’ union issued a subsequent statement on Monday, claiming that more than 30 people had been arrested and accused the security services of barbaric treatment, especially of women, and likened the mental state of the students, including some only on their second day at university, to being in wartime.

Meanwhile, women have been at the forefront of many of the protests. Images of women cutting their hair and publicly burning their hijabs have become widespread, a direct challenge to the Iranian regime that has banned such actions. The BBC has reported that even schoolgirls have been filmed waving their headscarves in the air and chanting “death to the dictator”.

The Iranian government has vowed to further crack down “with no leniency” on “those who oppose the country’s security and tranquillity” – an ominous indication of further mistreatment of protesters to come. The regime has severely limited internet access and blocked instant messaging platforms, disrupting the sharing of information between Iranians and the outside world.

It is clear that the anger will not go away any time soon. It is important that we do what we can to support and protect the protesters. The EU has taken some steps to support protesters, but while we remain part of the UK, we are represented in the country by the UK Foreign Office. This is why I wrote this week to the Foreign Secretary, urging him to use the British embassy in Tehran to assist and protect women protesting against Iran’s government, as well as helping ethnic minorities who are at risk of being targeted by the regime.

Other actions that could also be taken include supporting projects which tackle disinformation, an issue which my friend and our defence spokesperson Stewart McDonald MP has done so much to raise awareness of in recent years.

The SNP have helped sponsor counter-disinformation projects in Ukraine through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy; similar work could also be done to tackle Iranian propaganda both in Iran and the wider Middle East.

We are realistic about how much we can do in the region.

However, even a little support can go a long way. As we talk about Scotland being a good global citizen in the world, it is vital that we remain committed to supporting those who advocate for human rights, liberty and democracy around the world.

Perhaps, then, one day, we will be able to see people like Mahsa go about their daily lives freely in the streets of Tehran without fear.