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Blinding As A Weapon Of War (2): Soheil’s Story

January 25, 2023
Aida Ghajar
8 min read
The story of Soheil, a 29-year-old man from Shiraz who lives in hiding with a pellet lodged in one of his eyes.
The story of Soheil, a 29-year-old man from Shiraz who lives in hiding with a pellet lodged in one of his eyes.

IranWire recently reported that hundreds of Iranians have sustained severe eye injuries after being hit by pellets, tear gas cannisters, paintball bullets or other projectiles used by security forces amid a bloody crackdown on mainly peaceful anti-government demonstrations. 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.

In this series of reports, IranWire presents the victims’ stories as told by themselves. 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. IranWire could make their identities and medical available to international legal authorities.

Below is the story of Soheil, a young man of 29, the owner of a café-restaurant whose body and face were hit by pellets in the southern city of Shiraz on November 16, 2022.

Soheil says he does not regret participating in protests. For him, the pellet still lodged in his eye is a symbol of the fight against injustice and the hope for freedom: “We are on the right side of history and did what had to be done.”

Moali Abad Boulevard, November 16

On November 16, demonstrators took to the streets of Shiraz and many other Iranian cities to mark the anniversary of November 2019 protests. The protesters were blocking the street. Soheil, who had participated in previous protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, moves to the front line of the demonstrators.

A distinguishing feature of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement has been the presence of young people on the frontlines of the fight. They stand up to the armed forces of suppression and call on people to join protest rallies. The Islamic Republic accuses these “protest leaders” on security-related charges.

“That day I didn’t want to go to the street, but at 7 o’clock in the evening I couldn’t take it anymore. People blocked the street and were chanting slogans. I went to the frontline where we were chanting. We told the drivers who were honking their cars to turn back because forces of suppression were shooting at cars and were arresting their passengers. Everywhere was closed. Either the protesters had closed the streets or the police. The guys plucked the pipes from the walls and built a barricade. One had a stone in his hand and the other a Molotov cocktail. One was holding a stick and the other a pipe.”

The protesters were standing in the streets and alleyways in small groups and were “informing” each other about the movements of security forces: “Suddenly, the guys from one side of the street reported that the agents were coming.”

The agents reached the street: “Everybody was throwing stones. The only thing that I saw were the barrels of the guns that were shooting at us from behind a wall. I could not see the agents themselves. They were just shooting pellets. Suddenly I felt I had been shot. I did not feel any burning. It was like some object had hit your body. I was throwing stones and we forced the agents to escape from the alleyway but a few minutes later more of them came toward us.”

Moali Abad Boulevard, November 16

Then a protester shouted, “escape,” but Soheil started yelling to encourage protesters to stay: “People listened to those who were at the front. I started shouting, ‘Stay, don’t go.’ The guys behind me were throwing stones. I thought we also had to do something to terrify forces of suppression. They were firing and throwing teargas. The guys were picking up the teargas canisters with their handkerchiefs and scarves to throw them back at the agents.”

That was when Soheil got hit by pellets: “I was seeing all white and my eye was dropping tears. I thought it was the teargas until everything turned blank.”

A few hours later, his friends used their fingernails to remove the pellets that had not penetrated too deep into his body.

That night was the last time Soheil participated in demonstrations.

Life in Hiding

Soheil’s friends took him to the emergency department of a government hospital. They told the medics that his eye had been injured by a tree branch. The doctors immediately examined him without asking any questions. But a plainclothesman approached Soheil and started questioning him, insisting that the young man had participated in protests.

An hour later, hospital staff told Soheil, “Go, don’t stay here.”

After examining Soheil’s medical records, Dr. Rouzbeh Esfandiari, a former emergency doctor, told IranWire that the young man was suffering from a drooping eye (ptosis) stemming from an automatic body reaction and hemorrhage. The conditions of the pupil in both eyes were normal and the nerves were undamaged. The lens in the damaged eye was also unharmed. The CT scan shows a 4-millimeter metal object, a pellet, lodged between the internal and medial layers of the eye but did not harm the nerves.

Soheil says he and his friends went to a private hospital: “The doctor at the private hospital said it was a miracle. ‘Had it been one hundredth of a millimicron lower you would have gone blind.’ But I must avoid doing heavy work because it can dislocate the pellet.”

Dr. Esfandiari explains: “The injured must not even enter an MRI chamber. MRI creates a very big magnetic field that can move any metal object such as a pellet. If he enters the chamber, the pellet will move. It can move not only millimeters but centimeters and rupture the eye globe, go past the bone and enter the brain.”

After that night, Soheil never returned home. He moved from house to house and stayed with friends. In some of these places he met other people who had been shot in various parts of their body.

After a few days, the Intelligence Ministry tried to find him through his relatives. Repeated calls to the family and questionings by ministry agents are continuing to this date.

“They called my father and summoned him,” says Soheil. “They told my father that I was innocent, and they wanted to recognize me as a ‘disabled veteran’ and pay me compensation. I consulted my lawyer who told me, ‘They have identified you but could not capture you...If you go to them, nobody knows what they would do to you. You would have to sign whatever they tell you to sign. They have arrested and handed heavy sentences to people who had done nothing.’”

Soheil says that the security forces riding motorcycles have cameras and use images from CCTV cameras to identify protesters.

“Nightmares for the rest of their lives”

 The protests in Shiraz first took place in the neighborhoods of Zand Boulevards and Eram. Later, demonstrators gathered mostly in the neighborhood of Moali Abad. Soheil participated in the first protest rallies in September.

A few incidents made a deep impression on him: “There is a police station in Moali Abad where the commanders of the forces of repression are stationed as well. People were standing in the middle of the boulevard. The strangest thing that I witnessed were plainclothesmen with iron clubs who were covered by cow pelts. Their job was to break the windows of the cars. When there was a traffic jam, they started breaking car windows. There was no air, only teargas.”

Soheil and other protesters went over onto the footbridge. A father and his two children were there - a boy of about seven years old and a 12-year-old girl: “I had never witnessed children being so terrified. The girl’s eyes were burning, and she couldn’t breathe. The father was also terrified and wept…The girl refused to leave the footbridge. The father was so terrified that he forgot where he had parked his car.”

“All these nights, I witnessed with my own eyes that the agents showed no mercy to anybody, be it a child or an adult, young or old, man or woman,” Soheil says.

The protesters dispersed amidst heavy smoke and sounds of shootings: “We ran toward the buildings. There is a canal over there and a woman who was running next to me fell into it. I grabbed her hand, pulled her out and shouted, ‘Run!’ We were all running. The agents reached us, grabbed her husband and started beating him badly. I took her hand, pulled her along and we jumped into a building. I have no idea what happened to the husband.”

“That 12-year-old girl on the footbridge who could not stop crying and that woman who fell into the canal and whose husband was savagely beaten by the police — they will have nightmares for the rest of their lives.”

“We are all their enemies”

“You strongly feel that you are a victim of injustice. They curse you using the worse possible language and they are armed. They are free to do to you whatever they want,” Soheil adds.

Sometimes his vision is blurry, and sometimes a white light sparks in his eye.

When asked how he feels about the agent who injured his eyes, Soheil says: “The situation is very polarized nowadays. Years ago, I had a friend who was an anti-riot policeman, but now they do not see us as human beings, they see us as enemies. It doesn’t matter whether their brother is standing in front of them or their mother - we are all their enemies. I don’t know if it’s because of the money they get or if they’ve been brainwashed; it makes no difference. For them it’s like a computer game. In the demonstrations, sometimes they ridiculed us, sometimes they laughed and sometimes they taunted women. Maybe I was shot by my friend.”



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