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 Professor Payam Akhavan, a prominent human rights lawyer, special advisor to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and a former member of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
IranWire is aware of more than 50 serious eye injuries sustained by protestors and bystanders over the past five months. With the help of independent ophthalmologists, we have reviewed the medical records of around a dozen individuals and compiled a comprehensive medical report.
In the series of reports “Blinding As A Weapon,” 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, which can make their identities and medical records available to international legal authorities.
This is the story of Helia Babayi, or “Heli,” a young woman who plays the traditional string instrument tar, loves nature and is a birdwatcher. She lost her left eye during protests in Isfahan province.
“Hello. I am Heli. Birdwatcher. Wildlife lover…Environmental semi-activist. Instrumentalist. Narrator. Salsa dancer.”
This is how Babayi introduces herself on her Instagram page. When browsing through her posts, one video shot in a room decorated with relief work of ancient Persian figures catches the eyes. She is sitting on a chair with an ankle bracelet, wearing a skirt imprinted with musical notations and playing a well-known tune.
Shot at Close Range
On December 22, 2022, Helia first wrote about that fateful night. It was a few days before the stitches on her cornea were to be removed. She did not know whether her injured eye would return to its normal shape.
It all happened on October 26: “They had put up the fences in the mall. People were escaping from bloodthirsty space aliens wearing military uniforms. I was listening to a gentleman who was saying that pellets had missed his leg, and I was imagining what it would be like to be hit with pellets. Is it like in action movies when the guy is hit and sprawls on the ground? Everything was quiet. I turned toward the fence. A space alien with a light-colored military uniform was standing behind the fence. I think we were two or three meters apart. I could not see his face because he was holding his shotgun in front of his face and its barrel was protruding from the green fences in the mall. It was right in front of my face. The same guy whose god was merciful and compassionate…and BANG!”
Heli saw a flash of light, a whitish yellow light. The impact was so strong that she could not feel her eye or, perhaps, “felt it more strongly than ever.” Then she fell.
The first thing that she did was to touch her necklace, a necklace inscribed with the words, “Be Brave.” And the first voice she heard was her own: “Dad, I’m blinded!” She was afraid that she could no longer see nature and the birds.
Heli’s father came to her help. He lifted the young woman and took her to a bathroom to wash her face. She was afraid to look in the mirror: “I was afraid that it would be horrible, but I did look for a few short moments…Fortunately, I could see nothing of my face because it was covered with blood…That night blood covered the eyes of many people.”
Helie was taken to hospital in a black car. She never saw that face of the man who had rushed to help. It was a 20-minute ride to the hospital. Her eye, her lips, her shoulders and her chest were on fire.
Heli was suffering from Covid-19 as well and, that night, with each cough, the broken pieces of her glasses moved around and worsened the injury in her cornea. She grabbed her father’s hand and stayed silent. “If one drop of these people’s blood must be shed then it must be my blood, too,” she wrote.
A Year Earlier, on International Women’s Day
It is night and, from behind a curtained window, we can see a man and women dancing to tango music.
Heli posted this video on Instagram on March 8, 2022, and wrote, “On the occasion of International Women’s Day, may your ears delight in this. And, by the way, if you did not celebrate this day, go to your room, think about bad things that you’ve done and feel ashamed of yourself. Shame on you.”
At the time, however, nobody knew that Heli would have to live with only one eye because she dared to demand women’s rights.
Helia’s voice has participated in competitions. Just last year she received a citation at a book reading and declamation competition.
Helia is so much in love with nature that her posts on Instagram are filled with every kind of birds and their singing. Discovering lagoons that nobody has even heard of is one of her joys. Once, she and her friends found a lagoon with birds flying all over it, and they called it Helia’s Lagoon.
She did not post anything on Instagram after the story about the night when she lost her eye until the death of Pirouz, the last surviving Asiatic cheetah cub born in captivity in Iran. After Pirouz’s death last month, she picked up her tar, sat on her bed and sang, “Your name is in every heart and flows from every tongue.”
“I feel so miserable that I cannot do anything for helpless creatures like you,” she wrote. “The best I could do was to go out and sacrifice my eye and my lips so that, perhaps, Iran would become a better place for the likes like you, and I will go again.”