As IranWire has reported, hundreds of Iranians have sustained severe eye injuries after being hit by pellets, tear gas canisters, 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 Hossein Naderbeigi, a bystander who lost both eyes on November 3, 2022, during mourning ceremonies marking the 40th day since the death of a young protester. Naderbeigi can no longer work, and his mother had to quit her job to take care of his blind son.
On November 3, 2022, mourners planned to gather in Behesht-e Sakineh Cemetery in Karaj, near Tehran, for ceremonies marking the 40th day of the death of 20-year-old Hadis Najafi. As IranWire previously reported, PhD student Majid Khademi was shot in the eye when the forces of repression fired on the peaceful crowd. Khademi was not the only one to be targeted in the eyes.
Naderbeigi was not involved in clashes between security forces and protesters. He didn’t even plan to attend the ceremonies. The internet was cut off, and he did not know about the turmoil on the expressway leading to the cemetery.
He was watching the clashes when suddenly a motorcycle carrying two members of the paramilitary Basij force approached. The motorcycle stopped, the man on the backseat pulled his gun from under his parka, smiled, and shot at Naderbeigi at close range.
One of the pellets is still lodged under the eye of Naderbeigi
Naderbeigi lost consciousness and he was taken away from the scene. Two pellets tore through his right eye and three lodged in the left one. Other pellets hit his neck, arms and kidneys. For a week, Naderbeigi could not even speak.
His relatives found the young man in a clinic in Alborz province and took him to Tehran, where he remained hospitalized for eight days.
The doctors said they removed all the pellets from Naderbeigi’s eyes during a six-hour surgery, but others were left in his body. Later, some of the pellets that remained under the skin caused infections and were removed, but doctors still don’t know how many pellets still are in his body.
Doctors have no hope that Naderbeigi will ever again regain his eyesight. The retina in both his eyes are seriously damaged and retina implant is still not a possibility.
The young man has now lost his job, his independence and the simple joys of daily life.
Losing Independence and the Joys of Everyday Life
Naderbeigi has two brothers. Their father died about five years ago and their mother made a living for the family by sewing. Naderbeigi received his high school diploma in 2020 and was discharged more than two years ago.
To contribute to the family’s livelihood, Naderbeigi started working as a laborer for a company. He had to spend all his savings on his eye surgery.
A look at his Instagram page clearly shows that he is a fan of Persepolis football club. He has put a heart icon next to the name of the club and posted pictures of himself in the stadium cheering for his favorite team. Now this simple joy has been taken out of his life.
His pleasures in life were simple, like watching football games or playing football. A few months before the shooting, he had started bodybuilding. Twice a week he went to a guitar class.
When somebody’s eyes are taken away, he loses the ability to do almost everything. This person’s independence is destroyed.
Naderbeigi must wait for a relative or a friend to take him to the street so that he can feel the breeze on his face.
Thinking of Justice
Members of the military and police should be familiar with the 1994 code on the use of firearms by Iranian armed forces. According to this code, armed agents are not allowed to target protesters in the eyes or in the head. Perhaps this is what Naderbeigi is thinking about these days. How could they shoot at his eyes?
A person close to Naderbeigi tells IranWire that he is repeatedly asking himself such questions. Who is responsible for the tragedy that has befallen him and his family? Is there a court that can hand down a punishment proportional to the daily torture he is suffering? Does the shooter feel any guilt? And, would there ever be a day when he can forgive his assailant?