An Iranian girl clad in black stands on an overturned trash can, waving her flaming headscarf amid slogans of “death to the dictator”.
A minute later, the video is seen crouching down to pick up another scarf from a friend and setting it on fire in front of the protesters.
The girl was 16-year-old Nika Shahkarami from Tehran. A few hours after these scenes were recorded on videos privately obtained and verified by CNN on September 20, Nika disappeared. And more than a week later, his family learned that he had died.
Iranian authorities claimed that Nika’s body was found behind a courtyard on the morning of September 21. His mother was not allowed to identify him until 8 days later. CCTV footage released by authorities just after midnight on September 20 to September 21 showed the figure of a masked person on which Nika said she had entered a deserted building still under construction in Tehran.
The Tehran prosecutor initially said the woman died after being thrown from the roof of the building and her death had nothing to do with the protests that day, but did not say whether she was a suspect, although she apparently declared her death as murder. under investigation. State broadcasters reported that it “fell” but offered no evidence to support the claim that it was an accident.
On Wednesday, CNN reported in Iranian media that a Tehran prosecutor said Nika’s death was a suicide, after asking the government to comment on the evidence in this investigation. Iranian officials still have not responded to CNN’s repeated questions about Nika’s death.
Authorities never explained why Nika entered that building on her own, and Nika’s mother said she didn’t believe it was Nika who was wearing the mask. Her mother said she believed Nika was killed by the authorities, but authorities never said whether Nika was in custody at any point.
But dozens of videos and eyewitnesses privately obtained by CNN show Nika being chased and detained by Iranian security forces that night. Ladan, a prominent eyewitness, told CNN that he saw Nika being detained by “several large-bodied plainclothes security guards” who put her in a vehicle during the protest.
Moments earlier, this witness had taken a video of Shahkarami getting behind a white car and shouting “tekoon nakon, tekoon nakon”—meaning “don’t move, don’t move”—to his car while he was stuck in Tehran traffic. Before the driver escaped from the short shelter he gave him.
Seven people who knew Nika and spoke to CNN confirmed that she was Nika. The same footage, taken at 8:37 p.m. on September 20, also shows riot police on motorcycles patrolling the area.
“I wanted to save him, but I couldn’t,” Ladan said. “There were about 20 or 30 Basijis with motorcycles on the sidewalk,” he said, using the local name of the paramilitary organization that was at the forefront of the state’s crackdown on protesters.
“Shahkarami was throwing stones at them. I got scared and even walked past it and said, ‘Be careful dear!’ I said. because there were many plainclothes police looking for him through the cars on the streets.
“They caught him fifty yards away,” Ladan added.
Ladan came to CNN after realizing that the death of the teenager he was filming and speaking to had been reported days later. With the help of the activist group 1500Tasvir, CNN spoke privately with several witnesses at the September 20 Tehran protest.
Other videos, including those burning hijabs, prove Nika was at the forefront of the protests early at night, before the repression began – fearlessly cheering and throwing stones, according to several testimonies.
This could have made him a target for security forces, including soldiers. Iran’s feared Basij militiaWitnesses said they began descending into the area around Tehran University and Keshawarz Boulevard, where most of the protesters had gathered that evening.
“I remember how brave he was that he didn’t go up in the trash and come down. The protester Najmeh, who was with Nika at the demonstration, also burned her headscarf,” she said.
CNN uses pseudonyms for all witnesses cited in this investigation due to the risk to their safety.
Students gathered near Laleh Park between 5 and 6 pm on September 20 to protest the death of 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian Mahsa Amini, who died in state custody after being detained by the country’s morality police last month. allegedly for how she dresses.
The scene was a familiar scene in Tehran in recent weeks: many young women shouting “death to the dictator”, burning headscarves and throwing stones at security forces.
At one point a trash can overturned and blocked the road to traffic. In the video footage, Nika came out on top with a few others.
“She burned and shook her hijab. I told her not to shake it because you might burn yourself, hold it until it burns,” she said. Then he took the headscarves of two of his friends with him and burned them too.”
Other videos from that evening, geo-tagged and verified by CNN, show Nika throwing stones at riot police. She carries a distinctive CAT backpack and wears a black mask and hat on her head. Sounds that look like gunshots can be heard.
Eyewitnesses said that from 7 pm to 8 pm, the pressure by the security forces intensified. “They were firing tear gas and pellets and holding down the protesters. Almost all of us were running face to face with them,” he said.
As riot police and Basij forces filled the streets, protesters began to move in all directions to escape the repression.
Dina, another witness who marched alongside Nika during some of the protests, told CNN she saw Nika in front of a gas station not far from Tehran University, where the group of protesters who had fled the tear gas launched by security forces had gathered. . Others managed to videotape the detainees by plainclothes officers.
“I saw with my own eyes that the security forces hit women with batons, they took many of them and took them to police vehicles,” Rıza said.
In the context of the extreme suppression of the protests, Nika was last seen by witnesses speaking to CNN – and another nine days would pass before her family was officially informed of her whereabouts. CNN-verified and geo-located videos prove that she was surrounded on three sides by security forces, which in recent witness footage made available to CNN shows the girl alive.
“I think Nika was stranded on the run that night because she was so young,” Dina said.
While Iranian officials insist that Nika died because of this desolate building, her mother Nesrin told Etemad, an independent Iranian newspaper, in an interview published on October 10 that she thought her daughter was “at the protests and killed there.”
Iranian security forces arrested eight people working in the building that Nika allegedly entered at the September 20 protests a few hours after eyewitnesses saw him, the state-linked news agency Tasnim reported on October 4th. Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi said a judicial criminal case has been opened. state-run IRNA said it was launched and offered its condolences to Nika’s family.
Tehran province’s head of criminal prosecution, Mohammad Shahriari, initially said Nika’s injuries amounted to being “thrown down,” and citing an autopsy revealed multiple fractures in the area of the pelvis, head, upper and lower limbs, and hands. Feet and hips, Tasnim reports.
“An investigation showed that this incident had nothing to do with the protests. No bullet holes were found on the body.”
CNN has repeatedly asked Iranian authorities for comment on whether Nika was detained during that night’s protests and whether other women were assaulted and put in police vehicles. CNN also asked the Tehran prosecutor’s office about the status of the criminal investigation into Nika’s death. No response was received prior to the publication of this story.
On Wednesday, Mizan, the online news outlet affiliated with the Iranian judiciary, published a story saying Nika’s death was suicide, citing a prosecutor.
However, a death certificate first seen by BBC Persian and confirmed by CNN states that Shahkarami died from multiple injuries caused by blows with a hard object.
In her interview with Etemad, Nesrin said that she talked to Shahkarami on the phone many times on the day she disappeared. Nesrin added that the background noise during the searches showed that she and other protesters were fleeing from the security forces.
According to Nasrin, who matched videos geolocated by CNN, Nika also mentioned a few places she’s been – Enghelab Square, Keshavarz Boulevard and Valiasr street.
Nasrin said he last spoke to his daughter before midnight, and all attempts to call Nika after that showed Nika’s phone disconnected. According to Nika’s aunt and several protesters who spoke to CNN, Nika’s Instagram and Telegram accounts were deleted.
His family says they went to police stations, prisons and hospitals for days to look for him, but to no avail. Finally, on September 30, Nika’s mother and brother were asked to identify Nika’s body, he told the BBC Persian.
on the 6th of October Interview with Radio FardaNasrin said that when he and other family members searched for Nika in the days after her disappearance, someone gave her her national identification number and that “the DMO caught her, they want to question her gradually.”
This matches what Shahkarami’s aunt Atash said. BBC told in Persian shortly after he disappeared. “An unofficial source from the IRGC contacted me and said that this boy was in our custody a week ago and was transferred to (he) us a day or two after we finished the investigation and building the case file. The prison of the house,” Atash said.
Atash and Nika’s uncle, Mohsen, was later arrested by Iranian security forces and forced to make a false statement. According to BBC PersianHe cited a source close to the family. When reached by CNN following the BBC’s report, Atash asked not to be contacted again, citing security concerns.
As the family searches for answers, those with Nika that day are also shocked by her death.
“The situation was very scary and everyone thought of running away,” Dina said. “I can’t forgive myself for Nika’s death. She was a child, she.”
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