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 Hamid Reza Panahi, a young man who describes himself as a “Rose facing rifles” on his Instagram page. The targeted shooting by security forces caused him to lose his left eye on November 16, 2022. He then resigned from his job and moved out of the neighborhood.
Strikes were called on November 16 both to commemorate November 2019 protest victims and to join the nationwide demonstrations against the Islamic Republic.
As Panahi went to work in the Iron Market in the Shad Abad neighborhood of Tehran, he had no idea what awaited him there.
“Please Don’t Take Us”
Panahi was among a group of protesters who had gathered in a passageway, chanting slogans. Some of the security forces massed outside the closed doors of the passageway were known to shop owners as "neighborhood kids."
Amid tear gas and shootings, agents of suppression forced the doors open and entered the passageway. Panahi and tens of other demonstrators reached the rooftop, where the shooting continued. Everything turned black and he fell when his right eye was hit by pellets.
Upon regaining consciousness, Panahi rubbed his face and felt swelling in his eye. Security agents had disappeared. They might have thought Panahi was dead. The young man managed to get into a bathroom in the passageway and hide there. It was about noon.
تهران (بازار آهنِ شاد آباد)- بازاریان با بسته مغازههای خود به اعتصاب سراسری پیوستند. طبق گزارشهای دریافتی، ماموران امنیتی امروز به بازاریان اعتصابی حمله کرده و به سمت آنها گاز اشکآور شلیک کردهاند.— Iran Human Rights (IHR NGO) (@IHRights) November 16, 2022
چهارشنبه ۲۵ آبان ۱۴۰۱#مهسا_امینی #IranRevolution #Iran pic.twitter.com/BrRr36qlzh
After a while, security forces rushed into the bathroom and slammed the stall doors. However, they failed to kick open the door behind which Panahi was hiding. Before leaving, the agents threw teargas into the bathroom and Panahi could hear his friends pleading, “Please don’t take us. I swear we didn’t do anything.”
Panahi stood alone in the darkness for an hour or two. He then heard his friends talking and opened the door, but he immediately lost consciousness.
“That’s What you Get for Rioting”
Panahi was hospitalized the same night and underwent surgery the following day. Pellets had penetrated his right eyeball and lodged in his forehead. One will remain behind the eyeball forever.
After a few days, the doctor came to Panahi and said, “You’re discharged.” The patient asked whether his vision would come back or not, and the doctor answered, “You’re blind and that’s it! That’s what you get for rioting.”
Panahi’s right eyeball was not removed. The eyelid of his left eye is now drooping.
For two weeks, Panahi was unable to sleep, and he remembers voices he heard in the bathroom. While still suffering nightmares months after the incident, losing an eye was not the end of his ordeal.
The paramilitary Basij force in the neighborhood did not stop harassing Panahi. As a result, the young man sold everything he owned, quit his job and moved to a new neighborhood. He visits his mother around midnight and leaves the neighborhood before dawn whenever he wants to see her.
“I know who shot at Ahmad Reza’s eye. He is probably not even 18,” according to a friend of Panahi.
As IranWire has reported, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and its affiliated Basij force extensively use children aged between 12 and 17 to suppress protests.