Two years on from the November 2019 nationwide protests, during which at least 300 Iranians lost their lives, the families of those killed say they face renewed pressure from security agencies.
They have gone through two grueling years, grieving for their loved ones while at the same time facing threats and psychological pressure, as well as having legal cases lodged against them on dubious national security grounds.
Pouya Bakhtiari was one of those killed in November 2019, shot dead by government officials in Mehrshahr, Karaj, about 50 kilometers from Tehran. As the anniversary of his death approached, IranWire spoke to his mother, Nahid Shirpisheh.
Pouya Bakhtiari was 27 years old and an electrical engineering graduate. He lived with his mother, loved Iranian poetry, literature, history, and calligraphy.
After Pouya was killed, the Bakhtiari family came under heavy pressure from security forces. Pouya's parents were arrested at a ceremony held 40 days after his death."They were arrested following a court order to protect the security of the honorable and damaged people, and to stop the sustained armed action against the people,” Mehr News Agency reported at the time.
After her arrest, Nahid Shirpisheh was repeatedly pressured and interrogated. She was released, and then arrested again. Pouya’s father, Manouchehr Bakhtiari, is currently in Karaj Central Prison and has been since May 29. He is serving a three- and-a-half year prison sentence, has been handed down a two-year ban on leaving the country and will be forced to go into internal exile outside Karaj for a period of two and a half years after his release.
"I was chanting with other protesters when I suddenly saw a flood of people coming down the boulevard, shouting: 'I will kill, I will kill, the one who killed my brother,’” Shirpisheh told IranWire, remembering the night her son died after being shot in the head. “They were holding Pouya's body in their hands. Pouya's bloody face as his body was carried high above people's heads is the lasting image I have of him. We immediately took him to Ghaem Hospital in Karaj, where we learned it was too late and that he had died at the site of the shooting. When the doctors told me, I cried out across the whole hospital."
An initial forensic report cited the cause of Pouya's death as being from a hard object hitting him on the head. The Bakhtiari family challenged this and appealed to the forensic team to find out the truth. The cause of death was later recorded as "a bullet to the skull."
Since her son’s death, Nahid Shirpisheh has been determined to tell the world about him.”Maybe you think I am just praising him because I am his mother and he is not in this world anymore. But everyone who knew Pouya knew he had the best qualities a parent could wish for in a child. My prayer was that God would give me a child like Pouya, and to anyone who longs for a child. I loved that young man with all my heart. Educated and well read, he was also reliable. He was never indifferent to issues around him. With me, he was patient, kind, and tolerant. All the good things in the world were gathered in one person, in Pouya. I raised Pouya with great difficulty, but he never complained. I watched him grow in what seemed like minutes, and he filled my life. Today, the only thing that comforts me is that Pouya has made an impact on his generation. He was a window exposing the oppression of the people. The step he took was big and that calms my heart."
Targeted by Authorities as She Mourned
“How many times have you been summoned over these last two years?” IranWire asked Nahid Shirpisheh.
“I have lost count. The last time was in late September this year. Shortly after Pouya's birthday party, amid the darkness and the bitterness in the house, I fell onto the sofa and could not motivate myself to do anything. At three o'clock in the afternoon, four security guards stormed into the house. I said: ’You should be ashamed. You have brought such a disaster on my life. I showed him Pouya's room and empty bed and said, 'You took the fruit of my life from me and now you cannot even leave me alone in this darkness?’”
Has she complained to authorities about this treatment?
“I have not personally filed any complaints. I mean, I do not believe this works. I know it's useless. When we know who the agent and the commander are, and from the lowest to the highest level of the system, their hands are in the same bowl and their goal is the same, and they all support each other, to which judge should I complain? Who appoints the judge and the prosecutor? What can a complaint mean? What’s the point when the judge is the oppressor, prosecutor, and the investigating authority?”
At the same time, she says, she remains committed to achieving justice for her son. “Until I die, I will not give up my son's lawsuits and blood feuds. From the day and the hour I saw Pouya held up by the hands of the people to today, I have not stopped for a minute. I want all the events that happened to me and my child to be documented, and the perpetrators of this tragedy to be tried — everyone who is involved in this and who took my life and the life of my child must be brought to justice. Do they think they can play God and determine whether a young man lives or dies? Isn’t this a matter for God? How could they so brazenly and shamelessly take a human life without any sympathy or mercy? There has been no one over these two years to answer our simple questions. In their view, even asking is a great crime.”
When asked about her plans to mark the two-year anniversary of her son’s death, Nahid Shirpisheh said: "What can we do when there are so many restrictions and so many arrests? We swallow our pain. All the plaintiffs — mothers — and I, from the moment we wake up in the morning until we go to bed at night, think about is keeping the memories and names of our oppressed children alive. Our feelings and responses are the same, and when we talk, we see how much we have in common. We are all mothers and this common pain has brought us together, regardless of our class, thoughts, ideals, or political affiliation. In the mornings, when we’re in the kitchen we talk to ourselves and to our children who are no longer in this world. The need for justice for the sins they have committed against us and our loved ones does not leave us for one moment."
So who can be held accountable? IranWire asked.
“No body or organization puts itself in a position of accountability,” she said. They are not at all concerned about accountability and they never have a convincing answer. The only way they know how to act is through repression. One time my house was viciously attacked, and I asked: why did you kill my son? They had no answer. Instead, they said I was a woman trying to make headlines. To them, a mother whose hair has turned completely white in less than two years, whose heart is broken, who has no joy, is just a grumpy, grumbling woman, is no more than a woman who makes headlines for the media. Have a look at photos of me before this tragedy and compare recent ones to see what is left of me. See what they have done to once happy and hopeful mothers?
“I do not believe in complaining about the oppressor to the oppressor himself. I do not consider it wise. Because I never think of the person who fired the gun. I think of a military that has no mercy for its own citizens and commits any crime it has to for its own survival, in order to stay in power, even for a few more days. But every dictatorship in history has to come to an end. This system will end one day too, despite it being impossible to predict when."
Heavy Machine Guns Used to Kill Protesters, 2 December 2019
They Killed My Son. I'll Continue to Fight for His Ideals, 29 November 2019
Shutting Down the Internet to Get Away with Murder, 19 November 2019