As IranWire has reported, 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 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.
This is the story of Mostafa, a 31-year-old demonstrator who was hit by dozens of pellets during a September rally in the province of Chahar Mahal and Bakhtiari. One of the birdshots perforated one of his eyes, which lost 60 percent of its sight, but the man continues to attend street protests, saying that fighting for justice is his “duty.”
“Just for Shouting a Couple of Slogans…”
Mostafa recalls this evening during the first week of nationwide protests triggered by the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police, during which he and other demonstrators took to the streets of his hometown to chant slogans against the Islamic Republic.
“Agents on motorcycles and on foot came toward us from both ends of the boulevard. There were many of them [and] they started shooting. Many of us were hit with pellets. They were also throwing teargas at us…They were targeting us directly. It was like they were playing a computer game,” he tells IranWire.
At least 50 pellets lodged in Mostafa’s body, including three in his head. One of them went through one of his eyeballs and lodged behind it: “I could feel the pellets hitting my body and suddenly I couldn’t see anymore. A pellet hit my left eye.”
A local resident opened the door of his home to shelter Mostafa and other protesters. Around 10 of them were shot as well and sustained eye injuries: “Most of the protesters were young girls. They really didn't need to shoot directly at protesters, but when the forces of suppression arrived, they started shooting from both sides. It was so horrible, the kids were so terrified!”
“You Had no Other Problems but my Eye?"
More than three months have passed since Mostafa was shot and he still cannot see on his left side: “It might seem a trivial problem, but I have difficulty when shaving, and I must ask others to help…I do drive but cannot see the rearview mirror next to the driver’s seat. Driving has become difficult and dangerous for me. I’m not sorry about what I did, but when I stand in front of a mirror, I always ask the shooter, ‘Was it really worth it? Just for shouting a couple of slogans?’”
“If I see the shooter I would ask him, ‘Why did you do this? Are you happy that I and hundreds of others like me have lost their eyes? You had no other problems but my eye?’”
Mostafa did not seek treatment in his hometown’s hospital over concerns of being identified and detained by security agents. He used anesthetic drops during the first night and traveled the next morning to another town where he was auscultated by a doctor.
After examining Mostafa’s medical records, Dr. Rouzbeh Esfandiari, a former doctor with Tehran Emergency Services, tells IranWire, “The sonogram shows that the retina is not in danger of being dislodged, but his eyesight has dropped from 10 to four, meaning that it has been damaged seriously. According to the attending doctor’s report, there are ruptures in the retina and also in the middle and inner layers of the eye. It is very likely that they would want to extract the pellet.”
“I Believe that Fighting is my Duty”
Despite being severely injured, Mostafa has continued to participate in protest rallies: “I had no fear at all. I have my ideals and my goals…Many comrades lost their lives. I believe that fighting is my duty. I’ll be out there again. I’ll do whatever I can for justice, with everything I have.”
Mostafa had previously been hit by petters shot by security forces. That incident occurred in May 2022, when live ammunition and birdshot were fired to crush protests over soaring food prices.
“In our city, many protesters were injured,” says Mostafa. “Many of them still have pellets in their bodies. I was hit with pellets as well during those protests. I was full of pellets from my back to the lower parts of my legs. I removed the pellets from sensitive spots, but I live with the rest.”
Amid widespread evidence that security forces are intentionally targeting protesters in the head and other sensitive parts of their bodies, a former police officer tells IranWire that members of the Special Units, or riot police, and Relief Units, which usually intervene in minor operations, are rewarded gift cards and coupons for buying rice in return for blinding or killing protesters.
Like in the past, the authorities are using “thugs” to suppress protests, the ex-officer says, adding that Special Units commanders are always picked from other provinces so that “they can crack down more violently and more savagely.”