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 Artin, a tattoo artists who had just turned 18 when he lost an eye during mourning ceremonies held for victims of the repression. He lived in sheer isolation for several months after being shot, lost all hope and even attempted suicide. But he stood up again.
“I often try to hide my feelings, but I forget that my eye reveals everything,” he wrote on an Instagram post on his 19th birthday.
Artin was successful in his work as a tattoo artist, sold his own paintings, took guitar classes and prepared to take university entrance exams. But everything changed on November 17, 2022, when he lost an eye and his job, stopped studying and painting.
“Everything was going fine until they robbed me of my eyesight.”
November 17, 2022, Sanandaj
That day, Artin attended mourning ceremonies marking the 40th day since the death of three protesters -- Yahya Rahimi, Payman Manbari and Dariush Alizadeh -- at a cemetery in Sanandaj, Kurdistan province's capital.
After security forces started firing teargas at the large crowds of mourners, Artin and his friends took shelter in a neighborhood behind the cemetery. After a few hours they set out to return home, but security forces riding motorcycles and wearing black uniforms and masks fired at protesters who were blocking the streets.
Suddenly Artin's head and body were filled with pellets and he fell to the ground. A few minutes later he stood up and realized that his left eye had gone dark.
Artin was using contact lenses. The lens in that eye broke and tore his eyeball. A pellet also lodged in that eye. A young woman of his neighborhood took him to her home where the shredded lens was taken out. Artin was then transported to a hospital.
From Sanandaj to Tehran
Artin was taken to Sanandaj’s central hospital, where his eye was cleaned. Medical staff said they could not do anything else. Artin’s stepfather put him in his car and took him to Tehran. Eight hours later, Artin was finally hospitalized. After tests and a CAT scan, he was sent to the operating room. The pain in his injured left eye was so excruciating that he could not open his right eye.
Artin underwent three eye surgeries over a period of three days. Doctors stitched his eye, removed the pellet and injected silicon oil into it because the retina had been displaced. The young man had to sleep on his belly for some time so that the retina would not get detached.
He has been living by himself for years. After his father left his family, his mother remarried, and Artin packed a bag and left at the age of 16.
After the surgeries, Artin returned from Tehran and for two months slept on his belly, alone and in silence. He was in pain. The pain had lingered in his neck, his teeth and even his gums. The only thing that he could do was to sit on a chair while holding down his head and play with his mobile phone.
During that time, he himself removed tens of pellets from his body.
Despair and Suicide Attempt
Before his eye was shot, Artin worked as a tattooist. A few months earlier he had bought books to prepare for university entrance exams. He wanted to continue his education in arts. Four times a week he also attended painting and guitar classes. Artin has a diploma in chiaroscuro, a style of painting that uses strong contrasts between light and dark.
But when he was shot, he turned his back to everything, including himself. And Artin had to reimburse his stepfather half the cost for his treatment and hospitalization.
“Becoming blind is worse than death,” he thought.
One night, Artin took eight sheets of pills and swallowed them one by one. But at the last moment, he became terrified and called a friend. Artin survived.
Returning to Life
These days, Artin found some support in meeting with other victims who have been blinded. Sharing each other’s pain has opened the doors to a new world.
During this time, Artin has worked at different jobs to make a living, including as a car washer and plasterer.
Artin’s left eye has no sight. When he looks left, the world is black and when he looks right everything is blurred. And the eye cannot distinguish between colors.
However, he has resumed his friendship with his guitar, and his love for tattooing is now stronger than the desire to go to the university.
In his Instragram post written on the 100th day since losing his eye, Artin said that when he was feeling that his life had been destroyed he went to his tattoo master who introduced him to Mariusz Kedzierski, a Polish painter who was born without arms.
He wrote that he practiced day and night until he succeeded in re-establishing the harmony between his nerves and his muscles. He ended his post by declaring, “Now, I'm not sorry but very content.”