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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

Mother of dead Iranian schoolgirl accuses authorities of murder

schoolgirl nika shakrami
Nika Shakrami’s death was reportedly caused by multiple blows by a hard object, but her family say they were pressured to call it a suicide. Photograph: Twitter

The mother of an Iranian teenager who died after joining protests over Mahsa Amini’s death has accused the authorities of murdering her daughter and pressuring her into saying that her death was a suicide, caused by jumping from the roof of a building.

In a video sent on Thursday to Radio Farda, a US-funded media outlet, Nasrin Shahkarami said she was under pressure to give a false statement about the death of 16-year-old Nika, who went missing on 20 September after leaving to join an anti-hijab protest in Tehran.

Protests erupted across Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurd, after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly breaching the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.

The scale of the Iranian government crackdown on the protests is only now becoming clear, with human rights groups saying more than 1,200 people have been arrested at street demonstrations, including 92 picked up in preventive raids by the security services. Amnesty International put the death toll of a security services shooting last Friday in Zahedan, Balochistan province, at 87, considerably higher than before. As protests die down for now, the Iranian national police claimed 1,200 of its officers had been injured.

The average age of those killed in the demonstrations is 20, according to human rights groups.

Nika Shahkarami’s death has become nearly as totemic as that of Amini herself, with photographs of her circulating on the internet, and conflicting accounts provided by the family and the state as to how she died.

After going to take part in the protests on on 20 September, according to her family, in the last phone call, she said that she was running from the security forces.

Nika’s family say her body was stolen by the security forces and only returned to her family on 1 October, 10 days after she went missing. Her family had planned to bury her in the western city of Khorramabad on what would have been her 17th birthday, her aunt Atash Shahkarami wrote on social media. Instead, the security services buried her in her father’s village without seeking the family’s permission, it is claimed.

Though they were prevented from seeing her body, Nika’s mother and aunt saw her nose had been smashed and her head injured. In the official death certificate, circulating online, her cause of death has been cited as “multiple blows caused by a hard object”.

Nika’s aunt and uncle were later arrested, and on Wednesday night the aunt appeared on state television saying Nika had been “thrown” from a multi-storey building, close to her own house, an explanation domestic government-aligned media supported on Wednesday night by broadcasting CCTV pictures of her late at night entering a semi-disused building on the night of the protests. Tehran officials said there were no bullet marks on her body.

The government media suggested she fell from the rooftop, and her bag was found on the roof. It remains contested as to why, if her body was discovered in the street in the morning, it was not possible to identify her body more quickly, contact her family or let her family see the body.

But Nika’s mother, Nasrin, claimed in a video posted online that her sister Atash “had been forced to make the confessions and broadcast them”.

“We expected them to say whatever they wanted to exonerate themselves... and they have in fact implicated themselves,” said Nasrin Shahkarami.

“I probably don’t need to try that hard to prove they’re lying... my daughter was killed in the protests on the same day that she disappeared.”

The mother said a forensic report found that she had been “killed on that date, and due to repeated blunt force trauma to the head”.

“I saw my daughter’s body myself... The back of her head showed she had suffered a very severe blow as her skull had caved in. That’s how she was killed.”

Nasrin Shahkarami said the authorities had tried to call her several times but she has refused to answer.

“But they have called others, my uncles, others, saying that if Nika’s mother does not come forward and say the things we want, basically confess to the scenario that we want and have created, then we will do this and that, and threaten me.”

Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR) on Thursday said it still held the Islamic republic responsible for Nika’s death.

It said: “Given the Islamic Republic’s long history of concealing, lying and manipulating evidence, Iran Human Rights rejects the official account of Nika’s death due to the contradictions and flaws, and holds the Iran [republic] responsible for her murder.”

The director, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, said: “The evidence points to the government’s role in Nika Shakarami’s murder; unless the opposite is proved by an independent fact-finding mission under the supervision of the United Nations.

“Until such a committee is formed, the responsibility for Nika’s murder, like the other victims of the current protests, rests with Ali Khamenei and the forces under his command.”

Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), said: “Iran’s prisons were already filled with political prisoners, and now the prisons and detention centres are swelled with protesters as the authorities move to crush the societal outcry over the government’s repression and brutality.”

He added: “We are deeply concerned about the potential for gross human rights violations, including torture and killings which we saw during the protests of 2019 and 2009.

“World leaders and UN officials must urgently call for the release of political prisoners in Iran, and the immediate cessation of arbitrary arrests and state violence against protesters, students and members of civil society.”

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