Protests in IranMurderous repression by a desperate regime
A wave of anger and grief has swept through the country in the ten days since the young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini died in the custody of Iranian morality guards. Some Iranian women have videoed themselves cutting off their own hair, posting clips on the Internet to illustrate the depth of their sorrow. Cutting one's hair was a mourning ritual in ancient Iran.
Mahsa was twenty-two years young. She had come to Tehran with her family from the small town of Saqqez in Kurdistan province at the beginning of autumn, hoping to enjoy a few days off. The capital proved her undoing in the cruellest of ways. Photos show Mahsa to have been a beautiful young woman. Did her beauty give the morality police reason to arrest and intimidate her?
Six people – two men and one woman – were involved in her arrest. "I am just visiting," Mahsa told them, "let me go." But her plea fell on deaf ears. Mahsa was loaded into a vehicle belonging to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and taken to a prison. Less than half an hour after her arrest, during which she fainted, she was admitted to hospital. What happened to Mahsa in this horrible detention centre during those thirty accursed minutes?
"Mahsa, a young Kurdish woman, arrested for violating the veiling law in the open street, is in a coma in hospital." As soon as this was announced, the news spread like wildfire across the Internet. Sometime later, a doctor who had examined Mahsa said the young woman had not shown any vital signs on her admittance to hospital.
Secret burial prevented
Three days after her arrest, Mahsa was dead. Her remains were taken to Saqqez, the town where she was born. Fearing a crowd, the security forces had planned to bury Mahsa in the evening or at night, but her relatives refused. On the following morning, all access roads to Saqqez were sealed off to keep mourners from neighbouring communities from arriving in solidarity.
Doctors across the country called on their Tehran colleagues to declare publicly what had really happened to Mahsa. But the government threatened the radiologists, neurologists, neurosurgeons and emergency physicians who had treated the young woman that anyone offering a medical opinion on Mahsa's CT scan would lose their medical licence.
Some doctors received death threats. An eyewitness arrested together with Mahsa said that the Kurdish woman had protested against her arrest in the patrol car and was beaten as a result. Eyewitnesses in the detention centre said: "When Mahsa was brought here, she was in very bad shape, she was completely debilitated. Her cries for help went unheard, and when we tried to assist her, the officers jumped on us and beat us up. Mahsa was also struck in the process. Finally she collapsed unconscious."
After Mahsa's death, the government announced that she had a heart condition and had suffered a heart attack. Mahsa's father vehemently refuted this version of events: "There was nothing wrong with my daughter. She was killed." Mahsa's mother added, "They murdered my angel."
Doctors examining photos and videos of Mahsa Amini available on social media conclude: "Considering the visible injuries on Mahsa's face and the fact that blood was coming out of her ear, there is no way that heart failure was the only reason for her hospitalisation. Such injuries are indicative of severe physical violence." Independent doctors who have since viewed the report on Mahsa's brain and found blood in her lungs see this as proof that she received severe blows to the head, in clear contradiction to the official statement.
Horrific catalogue of victims
People have met with violent deaths in Iran's prisons for years. Zahra Kasemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, was arrested in 2003 during student protests. She had been reporting outside the notorious Ewin prison on a gathering of relatives of protesters imprisoned there. Arrested on the orders of the Tehran prosecutor's office, she was murdered during questioning.
Iran's security forces have been using unlawful force, killing dozens of people, and injuring hundreds more.
— Amnesty Iran (@AmnestyIran) September 26, 2022
A medical doctor working for the Iranian Ministry of Defence, who performed an autopsy on Zahra Kasemi's body, stated at the time that her death had been caused by violent blows and had resulted from a skull fracture and a broken nose. Moreover, she had been raped before her death. The doctor in question went into exile in Canada a short time later.
Another example of the violent deaths met by prisoners detained in Iran is provided by the events surrounding the electoral fraud protests of 2009, which also saw unrest in Kahrisak prison at the time. Five prisoners lost their lives there. More than 920 people are held in the facility, which was designed for two hundred inmates. According to the Iranian Rapporteur Committee on Human Rights, prisoners are denied their right to go to the yard; visits to the toilet are only allowed once a day and food rations are very small.