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 a 48-year-old man who was in a car when security forces launched a stun grenade that shattered the windshield, exploded inside the vehicle and filled his left eye and his face with broken pieces of glass. Danial, which is a pseudonym to protect the man from harassment and retaliation, is still under treatment and he does not know whether he will ever regain his eyesight or not.
It was a night in December 2022 that changed the lives of Danial, his mother, wife and children. Danial was behind the wheel of a car and a friend was sitting next to him. They were caught in the traffic behind a red light.
The sidewalks were filled with protesters who were shouting slogans against the Islamic Republic. “We were in the first lane. Armed agents were shooting at people with pellet guns. People in their cars were blowing their horns in protest. It was a bedlam. The agents sometimes turned their guns toward the cars and shot at the cars in the first lane and shattered their windows. So we drove the car to the third line.”
Danial and his friend had just left the green light behind when a stun grenade was fired at the car: “It broke the windshield, entered the car and exploded below the rearview mirror. It was a horrible scene.”
They were still in shock when Danial’s friend shouted in fear: “Move it! Move it!” Danial drove the car forward for a short distance but the excruciating pain forced him to stop. Blood was dripping from his left eye, while his friend’s face was scratched all around by broken glass.
Danial left the car, put his hand on his face and cried out from pain. People gathered around the man and helped him to sit on the curb. Members of the paramilitary Basij force on motorcycles in khaki outfits surrounded Danial. He heard them saying, “He is in agony. Somebody finishes him off.” People shouted at the Basijis, who beat a retreat.
Danial lost consciousness and fell to the ground.
Surgery in Hospital Filled with Security Forces
Danial regained consciousness in hospital, where somebody came to his side and wrote down information about him. Danial thought this person worked at the hospital’s emergency ward so he gave him all the information he wanted, but he was suddenly handcuffed.
The security agent was saying Danial was shot with pellets, but a doctor in the emergency room insisted that was not the case. The doctor reached for Danials neck, pulled out a piece of broken glass and told the agent, “Look here! It is glass, not pellets.”
The security agent relented and Danial remained under observation until 3 a.m. The artery below his eye was ruptured and the blood was spilling out. The next day he underwent surgery, the injuries in his eye were stitched and an eyelid implant was performed.
According to his medical records, the “severe damages” to Danial’s eye included “ruptured cornea, sclera and upper and lower eyelids of the left eye.” They also state that the
upper lip was torn and the fingers of his right hand were damaged by the “impact of a
Dr. Rouzbeh Esfandiari, a former doctor with Tehran Emergency Services, tells IranWire that in such cases the patients might not be able to close their eyes completely and have to stick a tape on their eyelid when they want to sleep: “Closing the eye means that tear accumulates under the eyelid and helps in pushing out foreign particles like dust. Suppose that the eyelid has been shortened because it’s been stitched after an injury. In such a case, the damaged eye remains open during the sleep and this causes the cornea to go dry, which leads to scratches on the cornea and, eventually, to the destruction of its six layers.”
Danial stayed at home for nearly two months during which his wife had to wake him up every few hours, give him medication, put drops in his eye and tape it.
Daniel filed a complaint with the judiciary against the shooter, but he was told that he must file a complaint against the car insurance company. The hospital staff refused to give him his complete medical file, saying they need a letter from a judge before they are allowed to release the documents.
There are still stitches in Danial’s eye, both on the tissues inside the eye and on the implanted eyelid. During his last medical checkup, the doctor said they must wait to see whether the eyelid becomes droopy or not before they can repair the inside tissues. The broken pieces of glass have ruptured his eyeball as well.
Damage to the Whole Family
Danial and his wife have a 24-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter.
Danial and other members of the family did not tell his mother the truth for a few days. They were afraid that their elderly mother might be severely shocked. She now cries every day and, after every visit to the doctors, she immediately wants to know if his son’s eye is any better.
Danial has paid the medical expenses from his own pocket and still has to go to the eye specialist twice a week. Each time he has to pay 500,000 tomans for the medication and injections.
Danial is a retired driver for Tehran’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. He retired early because he was a union activist for years. But his pension was too low and he supplemented his income by carrying passengers in a car that belonged to a friend. Now he cannot continue this activity and has lost his badly needed source of income.