As IranWire has reported, hundreds of Iranians have sustained severe eye injuries after being hit by pellets, tear gas cannisters, paintball bullets or other projectiles used by security forces amid a bloody crackdown on mainly peaceful demonstrations. Doctors say that, as of now, at least 580 protesters have lost one or both eyes in Tehran and in Kurdistan alone.
The report concluded that such actions by the security forces could constitute a “crime against humanity,” as defined by Article 7 of the Rome Statute.
In this series of reports, IranWire presents the victims’ stories told in their own words. Some have posted their stories, along with their names and pictures, on social media. Others, whose real names shall not be disclosed to protect their safety, have told their stories to IranWire. IranWire can make their identities and medical situations available to international legal authorities.
This is the story of Nazanin, a fearless 16-year-old protester who was hit by 11 pellets shot by a riot police officer. She must now live for the rest of her life with a left eye that has lost most of its sight.
“It has Changed my Face and I Feel Really Bad”
“I feel sad when I look at myself in the mirror or at my pictures from before. My eye was very pretty; it was catlike. I loved my eyes. Now, when I’m in front of the mirror or want to take a selfie, my eye looks weird. It’s not like it always was. It has changed my face and I feel really bad.”
This is the only time Nazanin expressed her pain during the interview. For the rest of the conversation, she laughed and uttered words of hope for a better future for her country.
“I’m glad that it hit me and not the people behind me. Perhaps the one behind me was younger than me. Perhaps she was sick. Perhaps the pellet would have killed her.”
“I was Hit by 11 Pellets, one Directly in my Eye”
It happened in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas on November 16, 2022, when a small crowd of young people was chanting slogans against the Islamic Republic.
The masked members of riot police could have dispersed the protesters by shooting in the air, throwing teargas and riding a few motorcycles into the crowd. Instead, they shot directly at the demonstrators. The officer who destroyed Nazanin’s left eye was lying in wait behind a cargo container.
“That night I begged and cried until my mom allowed me to go to the protests. She came with me. Mom always comes with me. That night the crowd was not big. I joined [the protesters] and went to the very front of the crowd. I never stay in the back. We blocked the street and lit fireworks. Like the previous nights, we were all carrying stones. When the crowd grew larger, they first lobbed teargas at us. Mom was hit with teargas. We escaped.”
The mother and daughter were separated from each other for several minutes. They took shelter in the nearby parking lots and buildings’ yards. Nazanin and others continued to chant slogans. Riot policemen on motorcycles came, rode around the area for a short while before leaving. A little bit later the crowd returned to the street.
“This time our crowd was much bigger. Many were afraid to come forward. They were shining laser lights on us. A few of us decided to force the agents to escape. We all picked up stones and prepared to throw them. I turned to others and shouted, ‘Come on!’ When I turned my head, something hit my face.”
“I was hit by 11 pellets, one directly in my eye,” she says, adding, “I prayed to God not to be disfigured. I didn’t want to become ugly.”
“Such a Trauma Usually Leads to the Severe Loss of Vision”
The pellet remains lodged in the deepest layer of Nazanin’s eye. The other projectiles were removed from the other parts of her body, except two in her legs.
Nazanin is studying office administration in high school, but she has been unable to attend class for the past three months. She does not go out of the house during daytime and still feels pain in her eye.
“You can see the pellet under her left eye,” Dr. Rouzbeh Esfandiari, a former doctor with Tehran Emergency Services, tells IranWire after examining Nazani’s medical records.
“You can also see hemorrhage under the retina. The hemorrhage under the retina and in front of the eye was considerable. Also, the choroid layer and the retina have been separated. The pellet reached the nerve layer but didn’t penetrate the nerve itself. Everything shows that the trauma has been very severe and such a trauma usually leads to the severe loss of vision.”
Nazanin underwent her first surgery at a local clinic the day after she was shot. The teenager also had retina surgery in another city, and she now remains under medical supervision in Bandar Abbas.
The doctors told her they would decide in one year whether surgery is possible. In the best-case scenario, the eye’s vision might improve by 10 to 20 percent.
“I will Continue with the Hope of a Better Life for Everybody”
Nazanin and her mother have participated in demonstrations from the very first day since the eruption of the nationwide protest movement in the middle of September. The mother has raised her children all by herself for years, and you can hear her while Nazanin is telling her story. She is next to her only child, as always.
Nazanin says she has participated in the protests “because there is poverty, everything is expensive, and people have many problems.”
“In Bandar Abbas, there are many whose finances are tattered. There are people who live a difficult life in a small room. I find it difficult to bear. I want everybody to have a good life. I will continue with the hope of a better life for everybody. It is painful to me to see what is going on around me.”
Nazanin continues, “Many have not been able to get what they want because they are women. They do not allow women to sing. They keep saying, ‘This is an indecent thing to do. Don’t do it because you are a woman.’”
“I am not afraid of anything,” Nazanin says with passion. “I am not afraid of dying either. The only thing I want is to stand with others until the last moment that I can.”
When asked how she feels about her assailant, Nazanin answers, “I am full of rage, but I don’t want to do anything to him. However, if I see him in court, I will ask him, ‘Why did you blind me? Why did you do this to me, a child?’”
“Everything Has a Price”
Legally, Nazanin is still a child. She hands over the phone to her mother and I ask permission to publish her daughter’s story.
“I’m unquestionably unhappy about her eye, but I’m not sorry to have participated in the protests,” the mother says.
“Everything has a price, and this price must be paid. This is how I see it.”