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 Kowsar Eftekhari, a 22-year-old woman actor who did not stay silent about events in Iran while she was seeking treatment for her injured eye. She made the news in Iranian media when she returned to the theater stage, she spoke out when the 9-year-old Kian Pirfalak was gunned down by security forces, when protesters were executed and when the chemical attacks on girls’ schools started. She was charged by the judiciary and then pardoned, but she did not stop calling for justice for the victims of the Islamic Republic.
On October 12, 2022, nearly one month after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of police triggered the ongoing wave of anti-government protests, Eftekhari’s left eye was hit by a paintball during demonstrations in Tehran.
She still has difficulty in looking around her and loses her concentration because she must turn 180 degrees to see what is on her right. She says the face of the shooter remains in her mind and “it is impossible for a person who has lost her eye to remain silent.”
The video of her shooting was quickly shared in social media. At the time, nobody knew that security forces were deliberately targeting the protesters’ eyes. The victims had yet to share their stories and bond with each other.
On her Instagram page, Eftekhari repeatedly called for justice for herself and for other victims like her, for the executed protesters, for the poisoned schoolgirls and for the grieving mothers: “Now we fight more strongly and more resolutely than before to annihilate you for the blood you have unjustly shed, for the nooses you have tied, for the innocents you have hanged, for the lives you have destroyed, for the grieving families and for all the eyes you have blinded.”
Eftekhari underwent two surgeries to have stem cells injected into her injured eye and a fluid extracted from her spinal cord. She is now waiting for the results, hanging between hope and suffering.
Eftekhari was taken to court because of her postings on Manoto TV, a London-based Persian-language television station. Then her lawyer reported she had been pardoned and released.
According to information received by IranWire, this was not the only time that those injured in the eye have been threatened, arrested or even imprisoned. Some of them reported that judiciary officials forced them to pledge to remain silent in exchange for their release. Some have been constantly threatened by phone calls and have continuously been harassed in the streets by members of the paramilitary Basij force.
Like other victims, Eftekhari decided to continue protesting violations of women’s rights.
A Play about Violence against Women
“Judges,” a play written and directed by Sajjad Hosseinpour, was performed in Tehran for several weeks. Pictures of Eftekhari on stage were published by various media outlets and the newspaper Ham Mihan had a whole report about the play.
Eftekhari wrote that every night she entered the stage with a load of sadness on her shoulders but was then motivated by calls for justice from women who are facing legal violence.
Shooting without Hesitation
Eftekhari loved her eyes and whenever she felt unhappy, she looked in the mirror and said, “But look at those eyes!”
Eyes are not just tools to record each moment of our lives, they are also used to communicate with ourselves. Whether Eftekhari was sad or happy, her innermost feeling was reflected in her eyes. But what was in the eyes of the shooter?
In several of her stories on Instagram, Eftekhari asks these questions about him: What was going through his mind? How could he target her eye and shoot a paintball at it without hesitation? Many times, she took off her eye shield, stood before the camera of her mobile phone, posted the clip and wrote that she was still looking for answers to these questions.
Who is Kowsar Eftekhari?
Those who have lost an eye talk about Eftekhari’s sympathy and solidarity with them. She goes to their birthday gatherings, accompanies them when they go for medical treatment and empathizes with them in their suffering.
The bare facts are these: she was born on April 8, 1999, in Tabriz, capital of East Azerbaijan province, and has an untamable character. “A girl who is knocked down and rises is stronger than a girl who has never been knocked down,” she wrote long before she was shot in the eye.
“You are not what happens to you; you are what you choose to be,” she also wrote.
Nobody knows exactly what the victims of targeted shootings in the eyes have gone through, except themselves and perhaps people very close to them, but Eftekhari has shown that she has not lost her courage.
She broke through the cocoon that the loss of her eyesight had built around her and, like a phoenix, rose again from her ashes to demand justice for the victims of the brutal state crackdown on the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protest movement.