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. But the actual numbers across the country are much higher.
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 Elaheh Tavakolian, a young Kurdish woman who was shot in the eye on September 20, 2022, during the first week of nationwide protests triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police.
Like many other victims of the brutal state crackdown on the protest movement, she wrote on her Instagram page, “You shot my eye, but my heart is still beating.” She also said that the sound of her crying in hospital “undoubtedly reaches further than the sound of your gun.”
Tavakolian, from North Khorasan province, holds a master’s degree in international commerce and now works as an accountant. She was one the first women who was shot in the eye and used her Instagram page to reveal that the Islamic Republic’s security forces were deliberately targeting protesters’ eyes.
Pictures of her with a white heart on her lost eye now appears on placards carried by Iranian protesters across the world.
“I Shielded my Sister and Others”
In the first story that Tavakolian posted about the eye she lost, Tavakolian wrote about the pain she has been through and her resolve to remain strong for a father who had been injured in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
She also mentioned the case of Ghazal Ranjkesh, who was shot in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas. “Ghazal shielded her mother, and I shielded my sister and others. Who were you shielding that you did not hesitate to shoot?” she asked the shooter.
She spoke about a war veteran in one of her posts: “I went to hospital for a blood test before the surgery I’m going to undergo the day after tomorrow. There was a veteran there who noticed my stress. He smiled and asked, ‘I was at the frontline for five years and wasn’t shot even once. How did you manage to get shot in the eye?’”
“What Power my Eyes Have…”
Two months after the night she was shot, Tavakolian returned to work and posted a picture of herself holding a notebook in which she wrote, “What power my eyes have…This power to fight is driving me toward a glorious future.”
In another post, she listed the names and Instagram pages of other victims who have written about their eye injuries. These lost eyes have now become the foundation of their solidarity.
“What Power my Eyes Have…”
In one of her stories, Tavakolian shared a post and video by Kimia Assa, a young Iranian poet who lives in Germany. The video captured the moment when a bullet hits the eye of a protester. It might be Tavakolian herself or another woman of the same age. The video also features a picture of Tavakolian showing her eye without a bandage or eyepatch. She wrote that a man and a woman took her to hospital in their car.
On January 17, a Twitter user posted a video of the crackdown on protests where gunfire could be heard, and wrote, “Elaheh Tavakolian was shot in Esfarayen (a city in North Khorasan province). I was exactly behind her. We were doing nothing except chanting slogans. We were gathered around the city’s main square (Imam Khomeini). In the square, a young man tore up a poster of Khamenei and he was immediately shot with pellets.”
“The World Mustn’t Forget my Pleas”
Tavakolian has written many times about being strong and efficient, both before and after she lost her eye. “Be the most efficient before you are the best,” she once wrote, along with pictures of herself receiving a university certificate in Belgrade, Serbia.
It appears that she has attended international exhibitions along with her colleagues several times, although she has deleted the name of the company she represented. In one of these posts, she wrote that her company was honored as a “best brand.”
But it seems that Tavakolian has always been alone on her way to professional success. For example, she wrote, “It takes a lot of courage to endure all by yourself…suffer by yourself and grow by yourself…”
She recalled the suffering she went through when she lost her eye: “I am moaning and crying through blood because my eye is giving me so much pain. The world mustn’t forget my pleas, my moaning and my groaning from pain. I wept the moment I saw that film. Curse be upon you, the world! Tonight, I watched this film that was recorded by the dear people who were with me from the first moment of this painful event but didn’t show it to me until today because of my psychological condition.”
“I was crying, ‘Please take me to hospital so that I wouldn’t lose my eye!’ But when I approached cars to take me to hospital, they locked the doors out of fear…Two ladies were looking at me from behind the car’s window but turned their heads away because they were afraid to even look at me…And two children in bloodied outfits were following me…Thanks God, a husband and wife stopped and took me to hospital. Their car was filled with blood from my eye and my broken head. But they were people of honor who proved that they were human beings…Thank you, my good fellow citizens.”
“Why I’m not the Elaheh I Was?”
For the forces of suppression, it makes no difference whether the protesters are religious or atheists; they want to put down the protests at any cost. Tavakolian’s posts show that she is a believer. She has never posted any picture of herself without a hijab. She has pictures and stories of herself in Shia holy places in Iran and Iraq.
In one of her stories, she wrote that just two days before she was shot she was in Karbala, Iraq. After, however, she removed religious picture from her page and did not visit the shrine of Imam Reza in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad for four months.
“Why I’m not the Elaheh I was?” she asked.