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 Vahed Roznavard, a Kurdish man who lost his eye during the first weeks of last year’s nationwide protests. For the past month and a half, he has been residing in Turkey. He now hopes to reach a European country and be granted asylum.
Shot from 10 Meters Away
Late on October 12, 2022, Vahed Roznavard and his friends joined other protesters in the streets of Mahabad, West Azerbaijan province.
While the protesters’ chants filled the air, riot squads attacked the crowd on foot, motorcycles, and other vehicles, using tear gas and firearms.
Roznavard and his friends sought refuge in the nearby back alleys as the security force were pursuing them through the streets.
A masked attacker positioned 10 meters from Roznavard pulled the trigger of his weapon and the young man collapsed to the ground, with his face and upper body drenched in blood. His friends carried him away amid the surrounding chaos.
One pellet had perforated Roznavard’s left eyeball, while another projectile struck his right eyelid. Several bullets remain lodged in his face, neck and upper body.
Numerous accounts emerged of injured protestors being arrested while seeking treatment in medical facilities. That’s why Roznavard and his companions embarked on a journey to Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan province.
Roznavard spent one night at a hospital there before undergoing surgery the following day.
The Youth of a Child Worker
Roznavard was born in 2001 and grew up in a village before eventually moving with his family to Mahabad.
As the youngest child in a family of seven, he began working at a young age. By the time he reached 11 years old, he was already juggling studies and work as a seller and as a stone miner.
The financial strain faced by the family compelled the young boy, who harbored dreams of becoming a footballer, to drop out of school by the 10th grade.
For several years, Roznavard has worked as a hairdresser — a profession he loved. However, after losing vision in one eye and experiencing weakening sight in the other, he was unable to continue this career.
With his livelihood becoming increasingly precarious, constant threats from members of the paramilitary Basij force further exacerbated his situation.
That’s why the young man decided to embark on the arduous path of an asylum seeker. He fled to Turkey in May, but he faces deportation when his visa expires in less than two months.
Roznavard made an attempt to illegally travel to Greece, but he was intercepted by Greek police at the border. His belongings were confiscated, including his medical file and eye medications, and he was subjected to physical violence before being sent back to Turkey.
His Life Turned Dark
The memories of the moments he was targeted in the eyes reverberate through his nightmares and plague his waking moments. Sleep eluded him for an extended period of time, while his appetite dwindled.
At times, thoughts of suicide infiltrated his mind as he grappled with the profound difficulty of accepting the atrocities he had witnessed and the unimaginable tragedy that had befallen him.
The loss of Mohammed Ahmadi-Gagash, a dear friend and neighbor who was killed during the protests, also left a deep void in his life.
In the face of adversity, Roznavard often expressed a sentiment that encapsulated his resilience: "I may have lost one eye, but the bereaved mothers should have the final say about the attacker and his fellow aggressors."