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. IranWire has explored this question more deeply in an interview with prominent human rights lawyer Professor Payam Akhavan, special advisor to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and former member of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
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 Amir Velayati, a 24-year-old man who had to work since he was 14. He lost an eye during the first week of protests triggered by the September death of Mahsa Amini, as well as his job.
Among his Instagram posts, one poem catches the eye: “You shot at my eyes/ You knew not that shooting does not end the turmoil/ But do not worry/ I will draw another world/ on the dark of my pupil/ This time though/ I will create you/ as a poem”
Velayati’s father died many years ago, leaving him, his mother and sister behind. The family lived on the pension of the deceased and the proceeds from Velayati’s jobs.
For four years he was a child laborer in many different sectors, including carpentry, package delivery and the garment business.
Velayati then became a barber, wielding his scissors for six years to make customers feel better.
That was until motorcycle-riding security forces shot him with pellets on September 24, 2022, in the Tehran neighborhood of Narmak, where he is from.
A video shared on social media show protesters in the streets of Narmak on that evening, shouting slogans against the Islamic Republic.
تداوم اعتراضات سراسری در نارمک تهران #مهسا_امینی— انقلاب زنانه (@enghelabezanane) September 25, 2022
شنبه ۲ مهر ۱۴۰۱
#opiran #iranwomenrevolution pic.twitter.com/wEpQCCEXhE
Velayati and his friends participated in protests in previous nights as well. Narmak district was one of the first areas that were rocked by protests.
A White Flash, then Darkness
It was around 10 p.m. when security forces, both on foot and on motorcycles, rushed toward the unarmed protesters. Velayati was shot in the torso and the legs by an agent who was sitting on the backseat of a motorcycle. The young man saw a white flash, fell and lost consciousness.
“When we were going out to protest, we thought we might get arrested or killed, but we didn’t know they would shoot us with pellets,” says a friend who also participated in the demonstration.
Velayati’s friends and other protesters brought him to the home of a local resident who had opened his door.
According to Velayati’s friend, he passed out several times. After being rejected from several hospitals, he was finally admitted in one where he was told that a pellet was lodged just 1 millimeter from his brain.
Two Surgeries, 20 Days in a Dark Room
A friend of Velayati says that his treatment has cost more than 50 million tomans up until now. He has had two surgeries to make his eye appear normal and is waiting for his third one.
To prevent the retina from getting detached, silicone oil has been injected into the eye, but this oil must now be extracted because the iris is turning white, according to this friend. Velayati must now undergo laser surgery to prevent the detachment of the retina.
Dr. Rouzbeh Esfandiari, a former doctor with Tehran Emergency Services, tells IranWire: “When a pellet enters the eye and goes through the eyeball, it reaches the bone. And it is possible that the pellet in his eye lodged close to the optical nerve, which is part of the central nervous system.”
Esfandiari says there are three common reasons for a change in the color of the iris: cataract, separation of the retina and infection in the eye. “My guess is that an infection is causing this change in the color to white, and that’s why they’ve decided to remove the silicone oil.”
Velayati spent the first 20 days in a dark room after being injured because light was hurting him badly. He could not even walk by himself.
Before sustaining the eye injury Velayati used to exercise, but the doctors told him not to lift anything heavier than 2 kilograms.
However, Velayati can drive his motorcycle for short distances and socialize with his friends. He also continues to post on his Instagram page.
The young man does not need an eyepatch but continues to wear one.
“I wear this to perhaps imagine that it’s dark because of the eyepatch. Somehow, I want to deceive myself,” he wrote on Instagram.