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Politics

The Islamic Republic of Body Snatchers

November 22, 2022
4 min read
Nika Shakarami was 16 when she was killed during protests in Tehran on September 20.
Nika Shakarami was 16 when she was killed during protests in Tehran on September 20.
The 14-year-old Sepehr Maghsoudi was shot dead by security agents.
The 14-year-old Sepehr Maghsoudi was shot dead by security agents.
Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, was hanged in 2014 after spending eight years on death row.
Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, was hanged in 2014 after spending eight years on death row.
The body of journalist Reza Haghighatnejad was stolen by the Revolutionary Guards at Shiraz Airport.
The body of journalist Reza Haghighatnejad was stolen by the Revolutionary Guards at Shiraz Airport.

The image of the lifeless body of 10-year-old Kian Pirfalak, photographed next to blocks of ice after his killing by Iranian security forces, will remain forever in the collective memory of Iranians. The boy was shot dead in the western city of Izeh on November 16 amid a brutal crackdown on nationwide protests. The grieving family, fearing that the body of their loved one would be stolen, had asked their neighbors for ice so that they could keep his body at home and hide it from the security agents.

Over the past 10 weeks, the Islamic Republic has repeatedly abducted the bodies of the crackdown’s victims, either to take revenge on the families, to prevent protesters from gathering at funerals, or to pressure the families to give a false account of the deaths. In this latter case, the authorities not only do not take responsibility for their victims’ deaths, but they can also accuse the opposition of murder.

This practice appears to be increasing day by day from the part of a government facing enduring widespread protests. As a result, it makes people angrier and the lives of the victims’ families more painful.

In this report, IranWire takes a look at some examples in which the Islamic Republic has abducted dead bodies over its 43-year history.

Nika Shakarami

Nika Shakarami was a 16-year-old girl who was killed by multiple baton blows during protests in Tehran on September 20. Nika’s family, informed of the death 10 days later, planned to bury her in Salehin Cemetery in Khorramabad, the capital of Lorestan province. But government agents stole her body and, after extracting forced testimonies from the family, they buried her in the remote village of Hayat-ol-Gheyb.

Despite the remoteness of the burial site, a large crowd gathered around the grave to mark 40 days since Nika’s death, turning the gathering into one of the biggest mourning ceremonies held for protest victims.

Sepehr Maghsoudi

The 14-year-old Sepehr Maghsoudi was killed in Izeh the same day Kian Pirfalak was shot dead. His body was stolen by security agents who told his family: “We are not giving you the body now because the family is grieving and something bad might happen.”

Meanwhile, media outlets affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) published a video in which Sepehr’s grandfather said he was a “martyr” of the Islamic Republic. He also called for his “filthy” murderers to be put on trial and punished.

Reza Haghighatnejad

Exiled Iranian journalist Reza Haghighatnejad died of cancer in Berlin on October 17. The Iranian Embassy issued a permit for the body to be repatriated to Iran for burial in the cemetery of his birthplace, Dezhkord in Fars province. But IRGC agents abducted the body from Shiraz Airport.

Despite desperate efforts by the family to retrieve the body, they were informed on October 30 that Haghighatnejad had been secretly buried far from his birthplace, and without the presence of the family.

Farzad, Shirin, Ali, Farhad and Mehdi

Farzad Kamangar, Shirin Alam Holi, Ali Heydariyan, Farhad Vakili and Mehdi Esmailian were five Kurdish political prisoners who were executed at Tehran’s Evin prison on May 9, 2010. Twelve years later, their families still do not know where they have been buried.

The five were charged with “placing bombs at government centers,” an accusation they all rejected. Farzad Kamangar, who was a teacher, wrote a number of moving letters from prison in which he described the acts of torture he and his fellow inmates had been subjected to.

 Haleh Sahabi

Haleh Sahabi, a Quran scholar and daughter of prominent opposition figure Ezzatollah Sahabi, was killed 12 years ago because she tried to prevent the body of her father from being stolen, according to eyewitnesses.

Haleh was arrested during protests triggered by the disputed 2009 presidential election and, after her father died while she was in prison, she was given a furlough to attend his funeral.

On June 1, 2011, while the father’s body was brought out of the family home to be taken to the cemetery, security forces attacked Haleh to prevent her from overseeing the funeral. A heated argument began, and the security forces forcefully took the father’s body away. At that moment Haleh Sahabi collapsed, according to her son Yahya Shamekhi. According to another eyewitness, Haleh died when she hit the ground.

The family were reportedly forced to bury her body in Lavasan, near Tehran. Security agents did now allow the public to know about Haleh’s burial services and she was buried at night with only members of her family attending.

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