Dozens of people were killed in 2009 when authorities took violent action to stifle protests over Iran’s rigged presidential election. Estimates of the number of people killed during the crackdown, which took place between June 15, 2009 and March 17, 2010, range from 72 to over 100. People in Tehran and other big cities lost their lives in prisons as a result of torture, or after being shot or beaten by police or security forces out in the streets.
One of the victims, 18-year-old Mohammad Kamrani, was arrested on July 9, 2009 near Valiasr Square in Tehran and taken to Kahrizak Detention Center south of the capital. Detainees were mistreated and some were tortured, including Kamrani. On July 15 he and other detainees were sent to Evin Prison, but when his condition became critical he was transferred to an outside hospital, where he later died.
The death of Mohammad Kamrani and four other Kahrizak detainees attracted widespread attention, eventually leading to the center being shut down and some of those responsible for the deaths being tried in court.
Mohammad’s father Ali Kamrani says that the political and social landscape has changed over the last 10 years, and some people who once expressed support for the Green Movement no longer hold the same views. “We who lost our children did not deserve this heartbreak,” he says. “We were done an injustice and we have not forgotten it.”
Mostafa Karimbaigi, 26, was shot in the head in Neauphle-le-Château Street in Tehran during the religious holiday of Ashura on December 27, 2009. Even though the family lived in Tehran, they were forced to bury their son the middle of the night in the village of Joghan in Shahriar in Tehran province.
The Karimbaigi family commemorate the anniversary of Mostafa’s death every year. His sister Maryam Karimbaigi says that, for the families of those who were killed, these mournful commemorations last nine months out of the year — “from June 13, when the first one was killed, to March 15, when the last lost his life,” she says. “Every year the memorials begin with Meysam Ebadi and end with Behnoud Ramezani.”
For them, Karimbaigi says, the anniversary of the Green Movement has been first and foremost a reminder of those who perished. It is also about the shared memories the families have built together. “The streets where the rallies and protests took place remind us of those days,” she says. “Not all the memories are painful. Of course there are the memories of loved ones who lost their lives and friends who were thrown into prison but it is also a kind of anniversary for our unity and for rediscovering ourselves.”
"Reformists Have Forgotten Us”
But Mohammad Kamrani’s father says that people who were once well-known figures of the Green Movement have now forgotten the victims and their families. “Before, they used to visit the families to soothe them,” he says, “but now even they have forgotten us. They do not remember our children who lost their lives.” Ali Kamrani also says in many cases the warm relations that once existed between these families have faded with the passage of time.
Maryam Karimbaigi agrees that some of the families are not as close as they once were, but that a group of them do continue to have close, strong friendships. But, she points out, “this is limited to the families. Prominent Green Movement figures have practically severed their ties to the families. Sometimes they have even intentionally driven the families to the margins. In the early years, the reformists gave a lot of support to the families because they thought that the Green Movement was theirs and [those who died] were [their] martyrs. When a group of families resisted the reformists expropriating the martyrs, they started laying the bricks that led, little by little, to a wall being built between us.”
Ali Kamrani says that certain political figures who now hold positions in the government or who were voted in as members of the parliament after using their association with the Green Movement to gain power once paid the families visits or contacted them regularly.“But now that they are in the government of Hassan Rouhani, now that they have a government position, they have completely forgotten us and have no contacts with us. They are finished with us.”
Mostafa Karimbaigi’s sister says that not only do well-known reformist figures not support the families of the Green Movement’s martyrs, they also tell them that they no longer think the same way. “The reformists consider themselves to be the owners of the Green Movement, but the truth is that the reformists were only one of the active currents in the Green Movement,” she says. “The Green Movement of 2009 must be viewed in its own light, separate and independent from the reformists.”
The Real Criminals Escaped Punishment
Those accused of murdering Mohammad Kamrani and two other Kahrizak detainees — Amir Javadifar and Mohsen Rouholamini — were tried and sentenced to prison, ordered to pay “blood money” and suspended from service. The families waived the blood money, but Ali Kamrani says they have not had justice. “The verdicts did not quite satisfy our expectations. We do not know what went on behind the scenes, but we concluded that the people really responsible were not the people who were tried, but instead low-level pawns. The prison sentences were not really carried out, and we had hoped that the verdicts and the prison sentences would really punish the accused and be a lesson to others.”
However, Kamrani says not all the families’ efforts were wasted. “A number of officials told me that at least others learned that they cannot do whatever they want without being held accountable,” he says. “These efforts will not bring our children back to life. What we wanted was for, in the future, people’s children not to lose their lives this way. Anyway, Tehran’s prosecutor was removed because of our perseverance. You know well that it was not easy to follow up a complaint to the point where Tehran’s prosecutor would be dismissed.”
Maryam Karimbaigi says the family filed a complaint soon after the death of her brother Mostafa but they, like many other families, did not get the desired results. “In the end, what they offered us was blood money! But my family did not want, and does not want, blood money. What we want is that the real culprits be identified and put on trial.”
Punishing the Victim’s Mother
Karimbaigi adds that her family will not stop pursuing justice, though she admits that so far the only result has been that authorities have opened up a separate case against her mother. “They told my mother: ‘why are you litigating your childs' blood?’” she says. “The examining magistrate at Evin Court told my mother: ‘suppose you never had a son. Why don’t you give up?’”
In 2017, a court convicted and sentenced Mostafa Karimbaigi’s mother, Shanaz Akmali, to a year in prison on charges including propaganda against the regime, and barred her from posting on social media and her from leaving Iran. She was recently freed on bail after paying 100 million tomans, over $23,000. According to her daughter, the appeals court is scheduled to review the case later this year.
So, now after 10 years, what do the families of the victims think about the Green Movement?
Maryam Karimbaigi says she has been struggling with this question for a long time. For her, it’s as if many families and many people who suffered during the events of 2009 have somehow been frozen in time. “This was a path that had to be taken and it was taken in the right manner, but the slogans of the 2009 movement do not provide answers for the current conditions. Saying this is very difficult for somebody like me who has lost her dearest loved one, but I say this without hesitation: We must leave 2009 behind.”
And, for the families of the 2009 victims, what’s the connection between the loved ones they lost and those who lost their lives during the nationwide protests in late 2017 and early 2018, if any? Maryam Karimbaigi believes that these two groups were really the same types of people. “What tie is stronger for binding the families of those who lost their lives in these two movements?” she says. “You can even find common threads in the goals of both the 2009 and the 2018 movements.”
What Is There to Say after 10 Years?
Amir Javadifar, 24, was one of those arrested by plainclothes agents from the Basij Base on July 9, 2009. He was beaten badly and tortured at Kahrizak Detention Center. He died while he was being transferred from Kahrizak to Evin Prison.
When IranWire asked his father Ali Javadifar for an interview, he said: “I am so sad. It has been 10 years but, until now, nobody had called. Now, after 10 years, somebody is calling. Where were you during these 10 years? Now you are asking us about it? Now you want us to talk about our lost loved ones? What can I say now? What can I talk about now?”
Secret Speeches Suggest IRGC Rigged 2009 Election, June 12, 2019
The Guards Need “the Sedition" to Survive, September 16, 2017
Will Iran's Green Leaders Ever be Free?, June 2, 2017
Kahrizak Survivors: Mortazavi’s Apology Opens Old Wounds, September 15, 2016
View from Iran: The Green Movement, June 23, 2015
What Happened to the Green Movement?, June 19, 2015
The Legacy of the Green Movement, June 18, 2015
MPs Push for Trial of Green Movement Leaders, January 7, 2015