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 and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
This is the story of Majid Khademi who was blinded when security agents attacked a crowd that had gathered to mourn a protester who was killed by the same forces.
November 3, 2022, marked the 40th day since the death of Hadis Najafi, a 20-year-old woman who was shot dead in Karaj, near Tehran. On that day, many protesters accompanied her family to Behesht-e Sakineh Cemetery where the young woman is buried.
Security forces closed the doors to the cemetery to prevent the crowd from growing. During clashes between the mourners and security forces, a member of the paramilitary Basij Organization was killed. Five people were sentenced to death for their alleged involvement in the death, including Mohammad Hosseini and Mohammad Mehdi Karami who were hanged in January. Thirteen other defendants were handed long prison terms.
In the clashes at Behesht-e Sakineh Cemetery, Khademi and other mourners were shot in the eyes. He is a PhD student at Isfahan University of Technology and a researcher in biotechnology who works with a company that develops medication for cancer treatment.
The young man was accompanying his mother and sister to the cemetery, but they decided to turn back when they approached its closed gates. The atmosphere was tense, security forces were arrayed against the crowd and a group of protesters attacked a police vehicle.
Security forces on motorcycles opened fire on those who were leaving the scene and were not involved in the violence. Khademi was directly targeted and hit with pellets. One of them tore through his left eyeball and lodged behind the retina.
The man first went to a hospital in Karaj, and he was then transferred to Tehran where he underwent surgery the same night. He had lost sight in his injured eye forever.
The Treatment and Afterward
After the surgery, the doctors told Khademi that he must sleep on his belly to allow the retina to reattach itself to the back of the eye with the help of laser surgery. After a month, he had regained his physical strength, but the psychological trauma took much longer to partially heal.
Dr. Rouzbeh Esfandiari, a former doctor with Tehran Emergency Services, tells IranWire that in most cases of eye injuries sustained during recent protests, the principal damage is cataract, meaning opacity of the lens. The lens can be replaced with an artificial one, but if the retina is damaged in a way that it can only distinguish between light and dark, the eye is considered blind.
According to people close to Khademi, the man is unable to perform routine tasks such as shaving or driving a car. He cannot tolerate sharp light and cannot watch television for more than 15 minutes. He suffers pain if he goes out under intense sunshine, even with sunglasses. Air pollution can cause excruciating pain. “For somebody whose eyes are damaged, air pollution can release a series of chemical agents from inflamed cells into the eye and the blood and aggravates the pain,” says Dr. Esfandiari.
Despite all these problems, Khademi is continuing his studies and his research work with the help of his colleagues and teachers. In the early months after he was shot, his teachers at the University of Isfahan sent him the videos and audio files he needed.
Complaint with the Judiciary
On March 28, lawyer Payam Dorafshan told Emtedad News that Khademi and several other victims of the government’s brutality have filed legal complaints in several provinces. Majid filed his complaint in Alborz province where Karaj is located. He has not been informed when and if a judicial investigation will be launched.
A friend tells IranWire, “Majid knows what to expect from this judiciary. He knows that it can be unjust or cover up the truth, but what is important to him is to file his complaint with this same judiciary and challenge it. There was no reason to shoot at him, especially since he was leaving the scene and was not involved in clashes.”