What really happened to Nika Shahkarami? Witnesses to her final hours cast doubt on Iran’s story



CNN

An Iranian woman dressed in black stands on an overturned rubbish bin and waves a headscarf as she is engulfed in flames, chanting “death to the dictator”.

Moments later, the video shows, she crouches down to pick up another scarf from a friend, which she also sets on fire in front of the protesters.

The girl was 16-year-old Nika Shahkarami from Tehran. Hours after those scenes were recorded on September 20, in a video obtained and confirmed exclusively by CNN, Nika disappeared. And more than a week later, her family learned that she had died.

​Iranian authorities said Nika’s body was found in the backyard on September 21. in the morning Her mother was given the opportunity to identify her only 8 days later. In the video surveillance camera published by the authorities, the time stamp was recorded after midnight on September 20. became September 21, a masked figure, who they said was Nika, was seen entering a building that was uninhabited and still under construction in Tehran.

A Tehran prosecutor initially said she died after being thrown from the roof of a building and that her death had “no connection to the protests that day,” but despite her death apparently being ruled a homicide, he did not say were there any suspects. is being investigated. State broadcasters reported that she had “fallen”, but provided no evidence that it was an accident.

An Iranian media report quoted a Tehran prosecutor as saying Nika’s death was a suicide after CNN asked the government to comment on the evidence in the investigation on Wednesday. Iranian authorities have still not responded to CNN’s repeated inquiries about Nika’s death

Authorities never explained why Nika would enter that building by herself, and Nika’s mother said she didn’t believe the masked person was Nika. Her mother said she believed Nika was killed by authorities, but authorities never said if Nika was ever taken into their custody.

But dozens of videos and eyewitness accounts obtained exclusively by CNN show that Nik was chased and detained by Iranian security forces that night. One of the main witnesses, Ladan, told CNN that she saw Nika being arrested during the protest by “several security officers in heavy clothing” who put her in a car.

A few days earlier, this witness, stuck in Tehran traffic, shot a video that allegedly shows Shahkarami crouching behind a white car and yelling “tekoon nakon, tekoon nakon” – meaning “don’t move, don’t move” – ​​at the driver before fleeing the brief shelter he gave her .

Seven people who knew Nika and spoke to CNN confirmed it was her. The same footage, shot on September 20 at 8:37 p.m., also shows riot police on motorcycles patrolling the area.

“I wanted to save her, but I couldn’t,” Ladan said. “There were about 20 or 30 Basias on motorcycles on the sidewalk,” she said, using the local name for the paramilitary organization that has been at the forefront of the state’s crackdown on protesters.

“Shahkarami threw stones at them. I was scared and even walked past her and said, “Be careful, dear!” because a number of plainclothes policemen were looking for her in the streets through cars.

“Fifty meters ahead, they reached her,” Ladan added.

Ladan reported to CNN after realizing that the teenager she was filming and talking to was the one who was reported dead days later. CNN spoke only to a few witnesses who took part in the protest in Tehran on September 20, with the help of the activist group 1500Tasvir.

Other videos, including one of people burning shawls, showed Nika at the forefront of protests earlier in the night before the crackdown began, fearlessly leading chants and throwing stones, according to several testimonies.

Witnesses said that would have made her a target for security forces, including members of Iran’s feared Basij militia, as they began to descend on Tehran University and Keshavarz Boulevard, where most of the protesters had gathered that evening.

“I remember how brave she was because she would climb on top of the litter box and not come down. She also burned her headscarf,” said Najmeh, a protester who participated in the demonstration with Nika.

CNN is using pseudonyms for all witnesses cited in this investigation due to security concerns.

Students gathered outside Laleh Park on September 20 around 5-6pm to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman of Kurdish origin who died last month in state custody after being detained by the country’s morality police. allegedly because of how she was dressed.

Young people, mostly women, chanting “death to the dictator”, burning headscarves and throwing stones at security forces have become a familiar scene in Tehran in recent weeks.

At one point, a trash can was brought in and overturned, blocking the road. Nika jumped on top with a couple of other people, the footage shows.

“She burned the scarf and waved. I told her not to wave because she might get burned, just hold it until it burns,” said Nima, who also participated in the protest and witnessed the unfolding of events. “Then she took the scarves of the two friends who were with her and burned them as well.

Other videos from that evening, which have been geo-located and verified by CNN, show Nika throwing rocks at riot police. She carries a distinctive CAT backpack and a black mask and hat on her head. Sounds like gunshots can be heard.

According to witnesses, from 19:00 to 20:00. the crackdown by security forces intensified. “They fired tear gas and pellets and grabbed the protesters. Almost all of us faced them and ran,” said another witness, Reza.

As riot police and Basij forces filled the streets, protesters began to move in all directions to avoid confrontation.

Another witness, Dina, who spent part of the protest walking with Nika, told CNN she saw Nika in front of a gas station near Tehran University, where a group of protesters had gathered after fleeing tear gas fired by security forces. . Others managed to capture on video the individuals being detained by what appeared to be plainclothes officers.

Reza added: “I saw with my own eyes how security forces beat women with sticks, grabbed many of them and took them to police vans.”

In this context of extreme repression of the protest, Nika was last seen by witnesses who spoke to CNN – and it will be another nine days before her family is officially notified of her whereabouts. The videos, which have been verified and geo-located by CNN, show that the girl, in the last live eyewitness footage provided to CNN, was surrounded on three sides by security forces.

“I think Nika got stuck that night when we were running. Because she was very young,” said Dina.

Nika Shahkarami seen in a photo posted on Atash Shahkarami's Twitter feed.

Although Iranian authorities insist that Nika died because of the uninhabited building, her mother Nasrin told the independent Iranian newspaper Etemad in an interview published on October 10 that she believed her daughter “participated in the protests and was killed there.”

Iranian security forces arrested eight people working in the building where Nika allegedly entered, hours after witnesses saw her during the Sept. 20 attack. protests, October 4 state news agency Tasnim reported. Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi said a criminal case had been opened. was released and offered his condolences to Nika’s family, state-run IRNA reported.

Mohammad Shahriari, the head of Tehran’s provincial prosecution, initially said Nika’s injuries were consistent with a “drop,” citing an autopsy that revealed multiple fractures to her pelvis, head, upper and lower limbs, and arms. feet and hips, Tasnim reported.

He added that “the investigation showed that this incident was not related to the protests. No bullet holes were found on the body.”

CNN has repeatedly asked Iranian authorities for comment on whether Nika was detained during the protests that night and whether other women were attacked and put into police vehicles. CNN also asked Tehran’s prosecutor’s office about the status of the criminal investigation into Nika’s death. No responses had been received by the time this story was published.

On Wednesday, Mizan, an online news outlet linked to Iran’s judiciary, published a report saying that Nika’s death was a suicide, citing a prosecutor from Vol.

But the death certificate, first seen by BBC Persian and verified by CNN, said Shahkarami died of multiple blunt force injuries.

In the Etemad interview, Nasrin said that she had spoken to Shahkar on the phone many times on the day she disappeared. Background noise on the calls indicated that she and other protesters were running away from security forces, Nasrin added. ,

Nika also mentioned several locations she had been to – Enghelab Square, Keshavarz Boulevard and Valiasr Street – which Nasrin said matched the CNN videos.

The last time Nasrin spoke to her daughter was just before midnight, after which all her attempts to call Nika indicated that Nika’s phone had been disconnected. Nika’s Instagram and Telegram accounts have been deleted, according to Nika’s aunt and several protesters who spoke to CNN.

Her family says they have been going to police stations, jails and hospitals for days looking for any trace of her, but to no avail. Finally, on September 30, Nika’s mother and brother were asked to identify Nika’s corpse, she told BBC Persian. ,

​On October 6, in an interview with Radio Farda, Nasrin said that when she and other family members searched for Nika in the days after her disappearance, one person gave her Nika’s national ID number and said that “the IRGC got her. , they wanted to question her slowly.

This corresponds to Shahkarami’s aunt Atash, said BBC Persian shortly after she disappeared. “An unofficial source from the IRGC itself contacted me and said that this child was in our custody a week ago, and after we finished the interrogation and compiled the case file, 1 or 2 days ago (she) was transferred to Evin prison,” said Attaché.

Atash and Nika’s uncle Mohsen were later arrested by Iranian security forces and forced to give false statements, BBC Persian reported, citing a source close to the family. Following the BBC report, which was obtained by CNN, Atash asked not to be contacted again, citing security concerns.

As the family searches for answers, people who were with Nika that day are also still reeling from her death.

“The situation was very scary and everyone was thinking of running away,” said Dina. “I cannot forgive myself for Nika’s death. She was a child.”



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