As IranWire has reported, hundreds of Iranians have suffered severe eye injuries after being struck by pellets, tear gas canisters, paintball bullets or other projectiles fired by security forces during a bloody crackdown on mainly peaceful demonstrations. At least 580 protesters have lost one or both of their eyes in Tehran and Kurdistan alone, according to doctors. It was concluded in the report that such actions by the security forces might constitute a "crime against humanity," as defined by Article 7 of the Rome Statute.
An interview with Professor Payam Akhavan, a prominent human rights lawyer, 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, has provided further insight into this issue.
Over the past months, IranWire has become aware of more than 50 serious eye injuries sustained by protestors and bystanders. With the help of independent ophthalmologists, we have reviewed the medical records of around a dozen individuals and compiled a comprehensive medical report.
IranWire presents victims' stories in a series of reports titled "Blinding As A Weapon." Some victims 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 Ali Zare, a 23-year-old man from the northwestern city of Ardebil who experienced six months of pain and loneliness after losing his right eye during protests in Tehran. After losing his eye, he also lost his job as a laborer in Tehran's bazaar. “My eye for a free Iran” is the slogan emblazoned at the top of his Instagram page.
As he did the previous night, Zare came out of his home in Tehran’s Nazi Abad neighborhood on October 7, 2022, to take part in anti-government protests. When security forces began shooting, a pellet scratched the corner of his eye. Although the injury was not serious, it was a precursor to what was to come.
A fellow protester took Zare to his home and cleaned the injury. The young man returned to the streets with a friend and joined other protesters who were chanting anti-government slogans. The scene was filled with smoke, fire and security forces.
A plastic pellet tore through Zare's eye. He fell to the ground, crying out in pain. Other protesters pulled Zare away. He asked about his bleeding eye. “No, bro! Your eye is there,” a person next to him said.
The eye was still there, but the vision was gone. A woman who introduced herself as a nurse took Zare to her home, washed off the blood, cleaned the eye and put some drops in it. Zare returned home by 4 a.m. He didn’t tell his family anything. Until morning, he struggled with pain in his room.
Treatment Delayed, Wrong Diagnosis
For 10 days, Zare refused to visit hospitals with his family because they were crowded with security personnel. In the end, he was operated on at Tehran's Farabi Hospital on October 16.
At the time, the doctors recommended stitching the cornea and implanting an artificial lens in his eye. They said his vision could have been restored if he had come sooner.
After three months of pain, the second surgery was performed on February 1. The ophthalmologists discovered that the retina was damaged and filled with blood. They removed the blood and injected gel into the eye to reattach the retina. Zare spent 24 hours in the hospital before returning home. He had to sleep on his belly for a week.
Dr. Rouzbeh Esfandiari, a former doctor with Tehran Emergency Services, tells IranWire, “If the diagnosis had been correct on the first day, or if they had suspected that the retina had detached and had begun treatment with silicon oil injections into the eye, further complications would most likely have been prevented.”
According to Dr. Esfandiari, different factors can contribute to failure to make the right diagnosis on time: “Maybe the hemorrhage and inflammation inside the eye was so severe that, in their first examination, the doctors weren’t able to see the deep layer of the eye, meaning the retina. Alternatively, the doctor who examined the patient may not have been an eye specialist, or the inflammation around the eye may have prevented him from thoroughly examining the eye. In any case, different options such as sonography can be used to detect a detached retina, and when there is the suspicion that the retina might have been detached the eye doctor must use them.”
Need for Continued Support
Months after the shooting, Zare’s injured eye still burns when the sun is bright or when he looks at the snow. He gets the same burning sensation when he tries to open his right eye due to the drooping eyelid.
His right eye has only enough vision to differentiate between day and night.
One of the first feelings victims like Zare experience is loneliness.
Shahrzad Pourabdollah, a psychotherapist, tells IranWire that “families of these victims should realize how fortunate they are that their child survived. Grief must be allowed for the victims who lost an eye. Until the grieving process is complete, they cannot accept the loss, and families, friends, and society's support are crucial along the way.”
Pourabdollah says that a person must go through three phases after suffering such a trauma. The first step is to acknowledge the trauma. Then, this person must return to a routine life so that he can finally find a new perspective on life.
A vocational school has awarded Zare a diploma in construction management. After graduation, he worked as a laborer in Tehran's bazaar since he could not find a job in his field. His employer fired him after he lost his eye.
Unemployed and with one eye left, the young man continues to take to the streets to protest against the tyrannical regime of the Islamic Republic.