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 Iman, a 34-year-old man who sold his car, his only source of income, to pay for the treatment of his injured eye. His nine-year-old boy is now hoping for some miracle that would return his father’s eye and a sense of security that every child deserves.
“The sun is beautiful so don’t blindfold me/ A Lur boy fights until death like a lion”
The line comes from “Mother, Mother: The Time for War is Here,” a song that has been repeatedly sung during nationwide protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police in September 2022. It is an adaptation of a folksong of the Lurs, an ethnic group that lives mainly in the western province of Lorestan.
Iman was shot in a city in Lorestan in late October, after a month and a half of anti-government protests and brutal crackdown by security forces.
He was attending a rally when security forces riding motorcycles and on foot, clad in black and wearing masks, started shooting teargas and pellets at the crowd.
Iman was hit by at least 60 pellets and suddenly everything went dark. One pellet went through his right eyeball and lodged next to the sixth cranial nerve that directs the rotation of the eye. The projectile can’t be removed, and the eye lost its vision. He was not able to move the other eye for months.
And his Eye Went Dark…
The pellets that had not penetrated deeply into his body were removed at home, one by one, by squeezing them out. The one that had lodged into one ear was removed by surgery.
Nearly five months after being shot, Iman’s eyes cannot tolerate light. The eyelid of the injured eye has fallen, and whenever he looks up, both his eyes get tired and the eyes fall.
For four months he remained confined to his home. The doctors have injected silicone oil into his injured eye to mend the detachment of its retina, which forced him to sleep on his belly for 10 weeks. He took tranquilizers and he keeps next to him the eye drops that control the pressure in his eyes in case something happens.
Dr. Rouzbeh Esfandiari, a former doctor with Tehran Emergency Services, explains these symptoms for IranWire: “The third cranial nerve activates the muscle that lifts the eyelid. In people who suffer from drooping eyelid, it is likely that this nerve has been damaged. Studies have shown that when the damaged eye becomes smaller than the healthy eye, then the eyelid on the damaged eye hangs lower. However, if the patient cannot keep his eyelids open, it can be that either the third cranial nerve has been damaged or the muscle that lifts the eyelid has not mended even after it was sutured.”
Concerning the eye that cannot move, Dr. Esfandiari says, “Moving the eyeball involves both nerves and muscles. For instance, if we want to look to the right with our right eye, the right eyeball turns toward the area outside the right eye and the left eye toward the nose, meaning toward the middle of the face. In this situation, the lateral rectus muscle in the outer part of the right eye and the medial rectus muscle in the left eye are activated. The nerve that is connected to the lateral rectus muscle is the sixth cranial nerve, meaning that the order to move is dispatched to the muscles in both eyes through this nerve. If the sixth cranial nerve or part of it is damaged, the eyeball doesn’t move.”
Specialist doctors have told Iman that the sixth cranial nerve could mend after a while. For the past few weeks his eyeball has been moving, but the eye gets tired after a few seconds, and he must look down.
“Looking for a Miracle”
After the incident, Iman was forced to stop working as a driver for the Iranian cab-sharing app Snapp, losing his only source of income. He had to sell his car to pay for his eye treatment.
The pellet that tore through Iman’s eye has not only devastated him but also his wife and his nine-year-old son.
A person close to Iman tells IranWire that every day the boy picks up an eye exam chart, stands in front of his father, and asks him to identify the symbols and the letters on the chart.
“This child is looking for a miracle,” says Shahrzad Pourabdollah, a psychotherapist. “I had a client whose father had lost his whole arm. For a long time, his child prayed every night and at dawn, when everybody else was asleep, he went to his father’s bedside to see whether his arm was back or not. He couldn’t believe that his father had lost his arm. It seems that [Iman’s] child too wants his father’s vision to come back and cannot believe he is unable to see. This gives the child a feeling of insecurity. Perhaps he thinks that if his father cannot see he cannot work, and he might have found out about their financial problems by listening to conversations at home. For a child this is stressful.”
“This child is also in disbelief, like other people who go through disbelief when they lose somebody, and that is why he’s constantly testing his father’s vision,” Pourabdollah continues.
Meanwhile, the father “experiences two kinds of helplessness, the psychotherapist says. “One is the loss of vision and the other is failure to provide his son a sense of security.”