As the anniversary of November 2019 protests draws closer, the families of the victims are full of sorrow and memories. The Dastankhah family is just one of them. Mohammad Dastankhah was just 15 years old when he was killed by security forces near Molana Street in Shiraz on November 16, 2019, while on his way home in school uniform. His family combed the streets until 9pm that night before finding their child’s lifeless body in the morgue of Sadra Organ Transplant Hospital, his bag and books placed down by the side of the cold iron drawer.
Pathologists from the Legal Medicine Organization later stated that the cause of the teenager’s death was extensive internal bleeding due to ruptures of the lungs, heart, and spleen following penetration by a hard object. In other words, he had been shot.
"Mohammad loved small technologies," his mother, Narges Afshari, told IranWire. “Like working with AC currents. He made small moving ships. He said, ‘I want to be an inventor.’ He went to robotics class, he went to language class, he loved innovation and one day, he said he’d become a specialized mechanic. He is gone. The sorrow has changed the lives of all of us, for as long as we go on living."
The following is the transcript of an interview with Narges Afshari, marking two years since the death of her son.
Ms. Afshari, two years have passed since the day your child was killed. What has happened to you since then?
Do you imagine that the sorrow of a mother diminishes? This pain will be fresh until Judgment day. I recently saw Mohammad's bag again. One of the neighbors had taken it, covered in blood, away with him in those days. Only now after a long time did it reach us again. I opened it; there were dried blood stains on the papers inside. I sat down and cried.
You ask, how have these two years passed for us? In a word, I can tell you exactly: devastation.
None of us know how our child was killed. What did he say at the last minute? How much did he suffer? Isn’t it our right to know who killed him? I haven’t crossed that street for almost two years now. We take alternative routes to wherever we want to get to. I can’t bear to see that place. As it gets closer to November, my heart catches fire. May God save the lives of all the children, but for people like me, when we see a student doing homework, his classmates growing tall, and whenever there’s the noise of football in the alley, with our child not among them, our hearts burn.
Yours was one of the families that made a formal complaint. What was the outcome?
We submitted two separate complaints to the judiciary in the first week. One to the military courts, asking why my son was killed, and the other to the school asking why, Mohammad had been sent home at that busy time without coordinating with us.
In the first case, they told us that my son, knowing that the place was insecure, had been in front of the Basij building in the midst of riots and unrest and the police had been forced to fire shots to restore order. And for this complaint, a staying order was issued. That is to say, they had issued the verdict in such a way that the child was blamed for crossing the street.
Interestingly, they also wrote about my husband. They said he had no criminal record nor a proven connection to political groups. But at the same time, they noted that he had recently given an interview to Iran International. This was a point against us in the eyes of the court.
Did you blame the school for your son's death?
Yes. He was sent home at two-thirty in the afternoon without us being informed, and without any specific, urgent reason. But the complaint against the school also went nowhere. On the day it happened, staff remained on the school premises until midnight, deleting the CCTV footage so as to pretend that Mohammad had not been there at all that day. But Mohammad's classmates testified that he was in school.
We appealed against the verdict, and they charged us to reconsider the case. But in the end, they told us it was over. They said: “Your child is dead; what exactly are you looking for? It’s over, your child is dead.”
In the past 24 months, has anyone expressed remorse or accepted responsibility?
It was around the 40th day after Mohammad's death that the Marvdasht intelligence office called us and said “Your daughter should make herself known”. They called so many times that we ended up going to the office at five in the morning. There, my daughter was asked, why had she set up an Instagram page in Mohammad’s name? She told them she wanted to keep her brother's memory alive.
They also put a piece of paper in front of my husband and told him, “If you want to be allowed to hold a [mourning] ceremony, you have to sign this document accepting that a ‘person unknown’ shot your son.” My husband said, “The unknown did not kill my son; you killed my son.”
Those were the same days when I was filming at Mohammad's tomb. I was asked, what film I was shooting for, as he was finished and gone? I was repeatedly threatened, told that one of my children had gone and I should think about the others. My husband's brother was even told to advise his brother's wife and children to stop making noise.
I heard some families had been offered money. Did they make you such an offer?
No, nothing was offered, but they didn’t let us have a ceremony. And last year, except for myself, my husband and my daughter, no member of our family was allowed to enter the tomb. The intelligence agents themselves were there and watching. Mohammad is buried in the village of Kuhsabz in Marvdasht, near his grandfather, in a burial site that has walls all around the graves and a door. The doors were kept locked last year. Imagine, not even relatives like aunts and uncles [were allowed in].
Different people in the street at that moment have given various accounts of how Mohammad was shot. Have you heard one that seems most reliable?
Is it my wish to know how my child suffered in his last moments. How he was killed. Mohammad's friend and classmate was with him. But that boy was so frightened that even now, two years later, we have neither seen nor talked to him. We have only heard from a third person that when Mohammad was shot, he told someone standing there, "I’ve been shot; my legs are cold, I’m getting very cold. You don’t have a blanket or anything, to put on my feet?"
He was next to the water fountain on a street corner when he was shot. His friend was by his side at that moment. We later found out that a photo had been taken of that exact moment, which of course is not available to us.
Did they offer you blood money?
Yes. In the very first days, they offered us blood money. They told us to give them an account number to receive it. In the very first days, IRGC and army officials came to our house and advised us not to cause problems, so that they could declare our child a martyr. I used to tell them, “You can even declare my child a prophet; I don’t want it. I just want my lovely, happy boy alive.” What good is it to call him martyr or not? Just a mark on his grave.
Would an apology help?
What good is their apology? They came and went. An IRGC official personally came to me to apologize. But what good is it for me to hear their secret apology, without their officially taking responsibility for what they did?