September 30, 2022

Mahsa Amini death: Iranians are risking it all to protest. Their families say some of them aren’t coming home

5 min read


Farnaz last heard her brother’s voice on the phone from an unknown number.

“He called me and said just one sentence: ‘I was caught’ … I immediately understood what my dear brother meant and I went to the moral police department (to look for him),” said the 22-year-old, who Said to use. A pseudonym for security reasons, told CNN.

Farnaz said his older brother, an accountant, had joined protests against the “repressive regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ibrahim Raisi” in the southeastern Iranian city of Kerman on Monday when “plainclothes officers” forced “force” into the crowd. People in the moral police van.”

The anger in Kerman mirrored scenes across Iran – as people took to the streets amid dramatic chants of “death to the dictator” against the government following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died last week in Iran. was taken into custody by the so-called ‘Morality Police’, a notorious unit that enforces mandatory headscarf laws.

Amini’s suspicious death has become a symbol of decades of violent oppression of women in Iran – and protesters say, once again, the government has blood on its hands.

Since last week, at least 17 people have been killed in violent clashes between protesters and security forces, according to semi-official news agencies. CNN could not independently verify the death toll. Apart from the protesters, two members of Iran’s paramilitary group were also killed.

On September 21, protests erupted in Tehran following the death of Mahsa Amini.

In the terrifying hours following her brother’s disappearance, Farnaz and her parents traveled to the Kerman branch of the Moral Police to demand answers.

Instead, they say they faced a sea of ​​other families looking for their loved ones – many of whom said they had been threatened by police.

It’s been four days since Fernaz saw her brother, and she’s worried that he’s never coming home.

“My brother is being held captive by these cruel people and we don’t even know about his condition,” she said.

CNN has confirmed video showing armed police clashing with protesters in Kerman’s Azadi Square on Monday – where Farnaz says her brother was taken.

On Thursday, the United States sanctioned a number of ethics police and security officials it believes are responsible for Amini’s death.

Amini’s family last saw him alive on Sept. 13, when he was “punched in the head” by Tehran’s morality police in the back of a car before being driven away, his cousin Diako Aili told CNN.

CCTV footage released by Iran’s state media showed Amini collapsing at a “re-education” center in Tehran later that day, where he was being “guided” by ethics police officers. was taken for how she dressed.

Two hours later, he was transferred to Kisra Hospital in Tehran.

According to Aili, doctors at Kisra Hospital, where Amini was treated, told his immediate family that he was admitted with “brain damage on arrival” because “his head injuries were so severe.”

Aili lives in Norway and has not spoken to Amini since July, but is in frequent contact with her parents. He said that none of his relatives were allowed to see his body in the hospital room.

“She died three days later in a coma… a 22-year-old young woman with no heart disease or anything… she was a happy girl who lived in such a good country, whose dreams about I’ll never know.” Ali said.

CNN could not independently verify Ali’s account with hospital officials.

Iranian officials say Amini died of a heart attack and have denied any wrongdoing.

Late last week, the government said the autopsy had been completed, but was still being reviewed.

A family photo of Mahsa Amini as a child.

An official investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death is “ongoing”, but it has done little to stop the unrest in the streets – as have the scenes of the protests, their geographical spread, brutality and symbolism. , flooding social media, which shows. The biggest show of public anger in Iran since 2019 has been protests over rising food and fuel prices.

For Shema Babai, who fled Iran in 2020 after serving time in Tehran’s notorious Evan prison for not wearing a headscarf, Amini’s death is particularly troubling.

“Her death reminds me of the police brutality, not only against me, but thousands of Iranian women who have had these experiences. They treated me like a criminal, handcuffed me, in the same building as the Moral Police headquarters. And disrespected me,” the women’s rights activist, who now lives in Belgium, told CNN.

Babai – who has a large social media presence in Iran – knows what it’s like to be an accidental symbol of protest. Her name became synonymous with the “Girls of Revolution Street” from 2017 to 2019, with anti-hijab protests across Iran.

But she says the mood seems different this time.

“I think this is the beginning of something. Women are setting their scarves on fire and erasing any sign of the regime from the streets… Sooner or later the Iranian people will be free and we will remember these people. Those who stand with us.

Internet blackouts authorities introduced on Thursday in an attempt to quell the unrest have had little effect. Human rights organizations are now worried about what Iranian authorities might do next under the cover of darkness.

According to Amnesty International, following the November 2019 protests, hundreds of Iranians were arrested, tortured, imprisoned and in some cases even sentenced to death.

Mansoura Mills, who works in the organization’s Iran team, describes today’s situation as a “crisis of immunity” due to international inaction.

“We are receiving reports that young people have been deliberately shot with metal pellets and other bullets, causing death or horrific injuries,” Mills told CNN. It is a desperate effort by the authorities.

For Ali – who has been watching the protests from afar – the fear he now has for his relatives in Iran who are talking about Amini’s death is crippling.

He said the government had offered to take care of his cousin’s family financially if he remained silent on the case, but decided to bring his story out.

“Why did you kill a 22-year-old girl who is innocent?”

“No one deserves to die just because they’re showing some hair or saying what they think … it’s a waste of life,” Alley told CNN. told.

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