What really happened to Nika Shahkarami? Witnesses to her final hours cast doubt on Iran’s story



CNN

An Iranian girl stood on top of an overturned trash can and waved her headscarf as flames engulfed it amid chants of “death to the dictator.”

Moments later in the video, she is seen bending down to collect another scarf from a friend, which she also sets on fire in front of the protesters.

This girl was 16-year-old Nika Shahkaram from Tehran. Hours after those scenes were recorded on September 20, in footage obtained and verified only by CNN, Nika disappeared. And more than a week later, his family found out that he was dead.

Iranian authorities claimed that Nika’s body was found behind a yard on the morning of September 21. His mother was not allowed to be identified for 8 days. Video footage released by authorities sometime after midnight on September 20 and September 21 showed a masked man, who they say is Nika, entering an unoccupied building still under construction in Tehran.

A Tehran prosecutor initially said she died after being thrown from the roof of the building and that her death had “nothing to do with the protests that day,” but while apparently ruling her death a homicide, he did not say whether there were any suspects. . is under investigation. State broadcasters reported that he “fell”, but there was no evidence to support claims of an accident.

On Wednesday, after CNN asked the government to explain the facts of the investigation, an Iranian news agency quoted a Tehran prosecutor as saying Nika’s death was a suicide. Iranian authorities have yet to respond to CNN’s repeated inquiries about Nika’s death

Authorities never explained why Nika would enter the building by herself, and Nika’s mother said she did not believe the masked person was Nika. Her mother has said she believes Nika was killed by authorities, but authorities have never said whether Nika was in their custody at any point.

But dozens of videos and eyewitnesses, obtained exclusively by CNN, show that Nika was apparently chased and detained by Iranian security forces that night. A key eyewitness, Ladan, told CNN that he saw Nika being taken into custody and put into a car by “several plainclothes security officers” at the protest.

Moments earlier, while he was stuck in Tehran, this witness recorded a video of Shahkarami ducking behind a white car and yelling “don’t push, don’t push” meaning “don’t move, don’t move” at himself it sounds The driver gave it to her before fleeing the shelter.

Seven people who knew Nika and spoke to CNN confirmed it was her. In the same video, which was filmed at 20:37 in the evening of September 20, it is also seen that anti-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 on motorcycles on the sidewalk,” he said, using the local name of the paramilitary organization that has been involved in the crackdown on protesters in the state.

“Shokhkarami was throwing stones at them. I was scared and even passed him and said: ‘Be careful, my dear!'” because there were several policemen in plainclothes passing between the cars on the streets, looking for him.

“They caught him fifty meters before,” Ladan added.

Ladan came to CNN after learning that the teenager he was filming and talking to was the same one whose death was reported days later. CNN spoke with only a few witnesses who were present at the September 20th demonstration in Tehran with the active support of the 1500 Image group.

Other footage, including videos of a scarf being burned, shows that Nika was at the forefront of the protests before the crackdown began – shouting and throwing stones without fear, according to several witnesses.

According to witnesses, this made him the target of security forces, including members of Iran’s Basij militia, as they began to attack the area around Tehran University and Keshavarz Boulevard, where most of the protesters had gathered that evening.

“I remember how brave he was because he would climb into the litter box and not come down. She also burned her headscarf,” said Najme, a protester who was at the demonstration with Nika.

CNN is using pseudonyms for all witnesses quoted in this investigation due to security concerns.

Students gathered near Lolah Park on September 20 to protest the death of Mahso Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman who died last month in state custody after being arrested by the country’s moral police. as if because of how he was dressed.

It was a scene that has become familiar in Tehran in recent weeks: young people, mostly women, chanted “death to the dictator”, set fire to scarves and threw stones at security forces.

At one point, a trash can was brought over and overturned to block the road. Video footage shows Nika falling to the top along with several others.

“He burned his headscarf and shook it. I told him not to wave it because you can burn yourself to keep it from burning,” said Nima, who was also at the protest and witnessed the incidents. “Then there were the handkerchiefs of two friends with him and he burned them too.”

In other videos from that evening, located and verified by CNN, Nika is shown throwing rocks at riot police. He has a distinctive CAT bag and wears a black mask and helmet. Sounds like gunshots are heard.

According to witnesses, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., the operation of the security forces intensified. “They fired tear gas and shot and arrested protesters. Almost all of us faced them and ran away,” said Reza, another witness.

As riot police and Basij forces filled the streets, protesters scrambled to escape the crackdown.

Another witness, Dina, who walked part of the protests alongside Nika, told CNN that she saw Nika outside a gas station near Tehran University where a group of protesters had gathered after escaping tear gas fired by security forces. . . Others managed to capture those arrested by plainclothes officers on video.

Reza added: “I saw with my own eyes that the security forces beat the women with batons and they arrested many of them and took them to the police cars.”

It is against this backdrop of a heavy crackdown on protests that Nika was last seen by witnesses who spoke to CNN – and it was another nine days before her family was officially informed of her whereabouts. Videos verified and posted by CNN show that the girl is surrounded on three sides by security forces in the latest eyewitness footage provided to CNN showing her alive.

“I think Nika got stuck that night when we ran away. Because he was very young, said Dina.

Nika Shahkarami as seen in a photo posted on Atash Shahkarami's Twitter feed.

While Iranian authorities insist that Nika was killed on the grounds of the derelict building, her mother, Nasreen, told Etemad, an independent Iranian newspaper, in an interview published on October 10 that she believed her daughter “was at the protests and in He was killed there.”

“Tasnim” news agency reported on October 4 that Iranian security forces arrested eight people who were workers of the building Nika allegedly entered a few hours after being seen by eyewitnesses during the September 20 protests. started and expressed his condolences to Nika’s family, IRNA reports.

Mohammad Shahryari, head of criminal prosecution of Tehran province, referring to the autopsy of Nika’s body, revealed many injuries in the area of ​​the pelvis, head, upper and lower limbs, arms and legs, and said that Nika’s injuries were consistent with “throwing”. does legs and hip, reports Tasnim.

He added, “the investigation showed that this incident is not related to the protests. No bullet holes were found in the body.”

CNN has repeatedly asked Iranian authorities about Nika’s arrest at that night’s demonstration and whether other women were assaulted and chased into police cars. CNN also asked Tehran’s prosecutor’s office about the status of the criminal investigation into Nika’s death. No response was received prior to publication.

On Wednesday, the Internet news agency “Mizan”, which is related to the court of Iran, with reference to the prosecutor T.

But a death certificate, first seen by BBC Persian and confirmed by CNN, said Shahkarami died of multiple blunt force trauma.

In an interview with Etemad Nasrin, he said that on the day of his disappearance, he had several phone conversations with Shahkarami. Background noise during the calls showed him and other protesters running away from security forces, Nasreen added. .

Nika also mentioned several locations he had been to — Engelab Square, Keshawarz Boulevard and Valiasr Street — that matched CNN’s geographic videos, according to Nasrin.

Nasreen last spoke to her daughter before midnight and after that all her attempts to call Nika showed that Nika’s phone was disconnected. Nika’s Instagram and Telegram accounts have been deleted, according to Nika’s aunt and several protesters who spoke to CNN.

For days, his family said they went to police stations, prisons and hospitals in search of his remains, but to no avail. Finally, on September 30, Nika’s mother and brother were asked to reveal the identity of Nika’s body, he told BBC Persian. .

On October 6, in an interview with Radio Fardo, Nasreen claimed that while he and other family members were searching for Nika in the days after her disappearance, a man gave him Nika’s national identity number and told him, “The National Guard Islamic revolution took him. , they wanted to interrogate him little by little.

This is what Shahkarami’s aunt, Atash, told BBC Persian soon he disappeared. “An unofficial source from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps contacted me and said that this child was in our detention center a week ago, and after the interrogation and preparation of our case, 1 or 2 days ago (he) was sent to Evin prison” Atash said.

According to the Persian BBC report, relying on a source close to Atash’s family and Nika Mohsin’s uncle, they were subsequently arrested by the Iranian security forces and forced to give a false statement. After the BBC report, when contacted by CNN, Atash asked not to be contacted due to security concerns.

While the family searches for answers, the people who were with Nika that day are still reeling from her death.

Dina said: “The situation was very scary and everyone was thinking of running away. “I cannot forgive myself for Nika’s death. He was a child.”



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