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 Kimia Zand, a 26-year-old woman who lost an eye to a paintball directly fired at her by security forces. “More terrifying than blindness is to see with both eyes what they are doing to our country,” Zand wrote on Instagram.
Her pictures on Instagram with a smiling face and a bouquet of red roses that she is holding over her lost eye have become symbols of the Islamic Republic’s defeat in its war against hope and beauty.
A paintball gun, also called a paintball marker, uses compressed gas or air to shoot dye-filled gel capsules called paintballs. This weapon has been extensively used during protests triggered by the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police. Reports show that security forces have replaced the usual dye-filled gel capsules in these guns with metal or hard plastic pellets used in shotguns.
Of course, this is not the first time that the Islamic Republic is using paintball guns to crack down on protests.
Such guns are mostly used in the shooting sport by the same name. But riot police across the world are also using them as “non-lethal” weapons to control crowds and riots by marking their targets with paint. The projectiles can also be filled with pepper powder and lightweight pellets.
Even though paintball guns are considered “non-lethal” weapons, they can inflict serious injuries if fired at sensitive organs, especially the eyes.
“My Eye. My Eye…”
On October 26, 2022, 40 days after Amini was buried, all Iran turned into a scene of protests. In western Tehran, big crowds chanted slogans against the Islamic Republic. Rallies in Gisha, Amirabad and other areas ended in violence when security forces shot pellets, paintballs and teargas at demonstrators.
Zand’s eye was hit with a paintball amid fire and smoke.
“I raised my hands to my eyes,” she wrote. “I was panting. My heart was about to break through my chest. I started running, but I didn’t know where I was running to. My brain was paralyzed…Dizzy. Nauseated. My eye. My eye…Then I found myself in the embrace of a woman who was undoubtedly my savior angel that night.”
Zand had started her Instagram page long before she was shot, but her page now starts with a picture of her with a covered eye.
“Even with Closed Eyes we Can See the Flame of Hope”
A small part of Zand’s eyesight has returned since the young woman on November 7 underwent two surgeries: vitrectomy and lensectomy.
Dr. Rouzbeh Esfandiari, a former doctor with Tehran Emergency Services, tells IranWire that “vitrectomy is a surgery to remove vitreous humor from the front layers of the eye when an outside object has entered the eye, causing hemorrhage. Lensectomy consists in removing the lens when the injury ruptured or displaced the lens. In this surgery an artificial lens is implanted, and the vitreous humor is replaced with silicon oil.”
“Now, the only way to do a retinal implant is to take the retina of a dead person. Of course, each implant has its own side effects, but since retina has no blood circulation, the side effects after a retinal implant are minimal.”
Zand wrote that she needs a retinal implant, but “more horrifying than blindness is to see with both eyes what they are doing to our country.”
In a post on her birthday on February 25, she posted a picture of her with an eye shield, sitting in front of a birthday cake on which she placed a single candle. “Even with closed eyes we can see the flame of hope that is shining on our hearts, a flame that will not go dark,” she wrote.
Perhaps the brightest flame of hope for those who have lost their eyes to targeted shootings is their shared emotions and experience. “We felt emotions and we went through experiences that we can neither believe nor forget. And they cannot become commonplace, but all along we had each other,” Zand wrote 100 days after the start of the nationwide protests.
“Never Lose Hope!
Throughout history, tyrannies have used force and violence to terrorize street protesters and drive them back to their homes, but tyrants forget that when injustice goes beyond a certain point it enrages people and this rage gives birth to heroes.
Zand and hundreds of others like her are shining examples of resolute heroes who only wanted an “ordinary life” and their most basic rights.
“Never lose hope! Right when you are at the height of despair, the light of hope shines from somewhere that you could not have imagined,” Zand wrote.
Until Amini’s murder, Kimia posted pictures of her eyes, was fond of her long hair and was looking for a “love,” but the young woman now says she has turned into “a woman who fights for her ideals.”