Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based NGO, has reported that 19 minors have been killed as a result of the brutal state crackdown on widespread human rights protests in Iran. Among the minors killed are the high-profile cases of 16-year-old Sarina Esmailzadeh, a teen vlogger, and 17 year old Nika Shahkarami. The two schoolgirls, both of whom went missing under suspicious circumstances during protests, have had their deaths ruled as “suicides” by Iranian authorities. Both of their respective families reported coercion and intimidation by state officials.
Their tragic deaths come as more evidence of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s barbaric treatment of citizens and widespread human rights abuses emerges. The widespread protests were sparked by the unlawful torture and killing of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman detained by morality police for not complying with Iran’s strict veiling laws. Like the murders of Sarina and Nika, Mahsa Amini’s death was reported as resulting from underlying medical conditions. Demonstrations and protests against the widespread human rights abuses and strict religious fundamentalism that permeate Iranian government and society, as well as the authoritarian government championed by the supreme leader Ali Khamenei, ensued.
Now entering its fourth week, the movement has shown no signs of stopping, despite the immense violent pushback by armed forces that have caused the deaths of an estimated 185 people. Amnesty International, in a report that drew from leaked government documents, has alleged that state forces have been given express permission to unleash inhumane and unnecessary force against protestors. One commander in the Mazandaran province instructed forces to “confront (protestors) mercilessly and going as far as causing deaths”. That same report detailed the murder of Sarina Esmailzadeh, who died after being severely beaten by security forces. Sarina has joined the list of yet another young life cut short by a brutal and barbaric regime. Her YouTube vlogs, which documented her daily life and support of women’s rights in Iran, have gone viral following her death, with one video of her singing “Take me to Church” prompting Irish singer Andrew Hozier to address the murder online.
Just as Sarina’s family were coerced into silence following her murder, Nika Shahkarami’s death has been the subject of intense international scrutiny due to an attempted cover-up. Iranian officials declared it a suicide. Nika’s mother went on Radio Farda to dispute this, accusing the government of murder and saying that police took her daughter’s body from a state detention facility and buried it in secret. BBC Persian revealed that Nika’s obituary attributes her death to “multiple injuries caused by blows with a hard object”, negating the official report. Additionally, public declarations of compliance with the government seem to be forced. The BBC also reported that whilst Nika’s uncle was speaking against the protests on TV, a voice could be heard whispering the phrase, “Say it, you scumbag”.
The deaths of these two teens illustrate not only the violence of Iranian forces but also the strong youth movement pushing for change in a country ruled by oppressive religious laws and the constant threat of violence. Despite local internet restrictions, videos of teenaged girls forfeiting mandatory head-coverings and tearing down portraits of the supreme leader in their classrooms have gone viral online. However, these brave young women are facing harsh repercussions for their actions. Iranian students participating in demonstrations have been arrested and taken from schools in unmarked vans, according to reports circulating on social media. Despite photographic evidence, the Iranian education minister denied any expulsions had taken place. Arrests of Iranian youth are common, with the Revolutionary Guard reporting the average age of recently detained demonstrators being just 15 years old.
These stories of Iranian youth risking their lives to protest against a fundamentalist, authoritarian regime are both infuriating and awe-inspiring. Their bravery in the face of state-sanctioned violence is extremely admirable, yet the blatant disregard for human rights that the Iranian government is displaying is nothing short of truly deplorable. At the very least, their courage has captured the attention of many and drawn the support of millions across the globe. Whatever comes next for the youth of Iran, they can be sure of one thing: for better or worse, the world is finally watching.
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