“I was chanting when I saw a flood of people flowing down the boulevard toward where I was standing. ‘I will kill whoever killed my brother!’ they were shouting. They were carrying the body of Pouya. Pouya’s bloodied face as people carried his body is the last thing that I remember of him. We took him immediately to Ghaem Hospital in Karaj but it was too late. He had died the moment that he was shot.”
This is how Ms. Shirpisheh, the mother of 28-year-old Pouya Bakhtiari, remembers the scene on the first day of the November protests, when her son was shot dead by anti-riot police. He was there, his mother told IranWire, not to protest against the rise in gas prices but to protest against all injustices done to Iranian people during the full 40 years of the Islamic Republic.
With Pouya among the protesters, the day started as “the most beautiful day” in Ms. Shirpisheh’s life – before it ended in tragedy. She told IranWire about that day and her determination to work for the ideals of her murdered son.
Please tell us about the day that your son was killed. Where did it happen?
I am a teacher and every day I usually drive my car from work and arrive home at 1pm. On November 16, I was stuck in traffic for almost two hours because people had started protesting against gas rationing and prices. When I reached home, as usual, I called my son, who was working at the workshop, to see what he was doing and tell him to come home if his work was finished so we could have lunch together.
He arrived home at 5pm. His car, which he used for work, was filled with cartons. Pouya’s job was to make pistachio powder. When he got home he was very happy, saying that there were crowds outside. We had our lunch in five minutes and left home. I was also very happy that at last people were protesting against all these injustices. My son and I were very close and were true soulmates. I locked arms with my son and together we went to the street among the people to do our part.
We were chanting slogans when they threw teargas and shots into the air and we were separated. I had no fears because I was confident that we were doing the right thing. I chanted at the top of my voice and asked people to do the same. I am a teacher and although it was possible that I would lose my job, I did not care.
Those around me were saying that the street was equipped with CCTV and asked us not to go any further but I ignored this and continued protesting side by side with the people. We the people are indebted to ourselves and to each other and must not leave so easily. Our human dignity has been trampled on for 40 years and if Pouya, I and people like us cannot defend this dignity, then who will? That night, before Pouya was killed, I told my daughter that it was the most beautiful night of my life. I am still wondering what made me say this sentence 10 minutes before my son was killed — my son to whom I was so attached.
I was chanting when I saw a flood of people flowing down the boulevard toward where I was standing. “I will kill whoever killed my brother!” they were shouting. They were carrying the body of Pouya. Pouya’s bloodied face as people carried his body is the last thing that I remember of him. We took him immediately to Ghaem Hospital in Karaj but it was too late. He had died the moment that he was shot.
When the doctors said that Pouya was gone I started chanting loudly in the hospital. It was a very great tragedy but, thanks to patience and the serenity that God and Pouya himself had gifted to me, I was able to go through the night in peace. The doctors wanted to inject me with a sedative but I did not allow it and said that I must witness everything that was happening.
Do you know what Pouya was doing when he was shot?
No. A few moments before it happened, Pouya went to his car and changed his shoes with a pair that he had in the trunk because the shoes that he had on were torn apart. After he put on his new shoes and he was going to rejoin the crowd, he turned toward me and his sister and said, “look out for me,” as though the police were after him. My son was 190cm tall and perhaps that is why the police targeted and killed him.
Did they tell you anything in the hospital about the bullet that was fired at Pouya?
The bullet was directly fired at Pouya’s brain. That night I could have not believed that our government would be so savage that it would fire real bullets at people who were protesting. I guess a sharpshooter had targeted my son’s temple because the street was very crowded and the anti-riot police had stationed themselves on the overpass so that they could see the people down below from a vantage point.
When we were at the hospital, three agents there were filming us but my brother fought with them and took away their mobile phones.
Did they hand over his body without a fuss, or did they put you under pressure?
The day after the incident my husband went to the hospital to get the body. At first the agents would not allow it, but after a lot of persistence eventually they gave us the body.
What was their justification for refusing to hand over the body?
The regime that governs Iran is a lowlife and a blackguard and they have asked the families of many of those killed for money before they would give them the bodies. At first the security agents did not want to give us the body but after Pouya’s father told them about his five-year service at the front [during the Iran-Iraq war], they released the body, but only after two of Pouya’s uncles signed a pledge that “respect” for the regime would be protected.
What did the medical examiner have to say about the cause of death written on the death certificate?
First they wanted to cover up the crime by writing that the death was caused by a “hard object” hitting Pouya’s head, but after Pouya’s father insisted, they wrote that the cause of death was a bullet.
Did you encounter any problems in conducting the burial service?
The night that Pouya was killed I slept in his bed and talked to him. “Dear Pouya,” I told him. “I cannot watch this scene. You help me!” I did not even want to go to the burial ceremonies and wanted to stay home. Until that day I could have never watched the burial of even my most distant relatives. You must be a mother to understand what I am saying.
When I was in the morgue standing over the body of Pouya, I said, “Hello dear Pouya,” unlike always, when he greeted me first. I was in peace in a strange way. Since my son was a great soul, we were able to hold the ceremonies in the daylight in the best way. But I know that the families of many who were killed could not hold the burial services of their loved ones in peace under the pressure of these murderers.
My son and I were so close that even imagining such a scene was impossible for me. Before this, I always thought that if Pouya was separated from me even for a moment, it would become impossible for me to go on living but his great soul helped me not to shed any tears during his burial ceremony. The morning after he was buried, I addressed the sun. “Sun!” I said “Aren’t you ashamed that Pouya is gone and you are still shining? How can you shine when Pouya is not here?”
Tell us about Pouya.
He was a perfect symbol of love. Because of his love for nature he went vegetarian three years ago. He did not want a chicken to be beheaded for his pleasure. He encouraged us to become vegetarian as well. What I want to say is that there was so much love in him, that he was so tender-hearted. My son would not even pull out the weeds around the flowers in the pot on the desk in his room. For him, the weeds were as beautiful as big flowers. “Mom! Don’t pull out the weeds in my flowerpot,” he would tell me every day. Other people go to classes and study to achieve spirituality, but love and spirituality were Pouya’s nature.
So if Pouya was not protesting against the rise in gas prices, what exactly was he protesting against?
My son had no financial problems. He had a workshop and two cars, one for work and the other for his personal use. He was protesting against the injustices that people have been suffering all these years.
Had Pouya participated in protests before?
Yes, my son took part in last year’s wave of protests over inflation.
How are you going to express your protest over the killing of your son?
As long as Pouya’s ideals for liberty and justice are not realized I will continue to protest at the top of my voice, like everybody else. In his diary, Pouya wrote that the love of freedom and the love of people were his basic principles.
My son even loved harmful insects, let alone his love for human beings. He loved literature and the history of ancient Iran. He was very fluent in English and some of his musings are written in English. Every week he would read two books by the world’s prominent writers.
In his interview with the BBC Persian, his father said that Pouya was going through the process of migrating to Canada to continue his education.
In Iran, my son had everything that he wanted. He could have easily left Iran for a free country. But he wanted freedom for all the people. I hope the blood of my son will bear fruit.
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