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


An Iranian girl dressed in black stands on top of an overturned trash can, waving a scarf, engulfed in flames, and chanting “death to the dictator.”

Moments later, the video shows him bending down to pick up another handkerchief from his friend, which he also burns in front of the protesters.

The girl was 16-year-old Nika Shahkarami from Tehran. Hours after those scenes were recorded on September 20, Nika disappeared in videos obtained and verified exclusively by CNN. More than a week later, his family learned he had died.

Iranian authorities said Nika’s body was found in the backyard on the morning of September 21. His mother was not allowed to identify him until 8 days later. September 20 After midnight on September 21, surveillance footage released by authorities showed a masked man they say was Nika entering an unoccupied building in Tehran that was still under construction.

A Tehran prosecutor initially said he died after being thrown from the roof of a building and that his death had “nothing to do with that day’s protests,” but ruled his death a homicide but did not say if there were any suspects. under investigation. State broadcasters reported that it had “fallen”, but did not provide evidence that it was an accident.

On Wednesday, after CNN asked the government to comment on the evidence in that investigation, Iranian media cited a Tehran prosecutor as saying Nika’s death was a suicide. Iranian authorities have yet to respond to CNN’s repeated questions 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 man was Nika. Her mother said she believed Nika was killed by authorities, but authorities never said if Nika was in their care at any time.

But according to dozens of videos and eyewitness accounts obtained exclusively by CNN, Nika was chased down and detained by Iranian security forces that night. Ladan, one of the witnesses, told CNN that he saw Nika being arrested and put into a car by “several burly plainclothes security officers” at the protest.

Some time ago, this witness recorded a video showing Shahkarami getting into the back of a white car and shouting “tekon nakon, tekon nakon” – “don’t move, don’t move” – ​​while stuck in Tehran traffic. before the driver gave him a brief escape.

Seven people who knew Nika and spoke to CNN confirmed that it was her. The same footage, taken on September 20 at 8:37 p.m., 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 on the sidewalk on motorcycles,” he said, using the local name for the paramilitary organization that has been at the forefront of the state’s crackdown on the protesters.

“Shahkarami was throwing stones at them. I was scared, even walking past her, “Be careful, dear!” I said. because there were several plainclothes policemen on the street looking for him through the cars.

“They got it after fifty meters,” Ladan added.

Ladan came to CNN after realizing that the teenager he had filmed and interviewed was the same teenager whose death was reported days later. CNN spoke exclusively to several witnesses to the September 20 protest in Tehran, with the help of the activist group 1500Tasvir.

Other videos, including one of burning a scarf, are evidence that Nika was at the forefront of protests at night, before the crackdown began – fearlessly shouting and throwing stones, according to several testimonies.

Witnesses said that would have made him a target for security forces, including members of Iran’s dreaded Basij militia, as they began descending on the area near Tehran University and Keshavarz Boulevard, where most of the protesters had gathered that evening.

“I remember how brave he was because he would climb up and down the litter box. He also burnt his handkerchief,” said a disgruntled Najmeh, who was with Nika at the demonstration.

CNN is using pseudonyms because of concerns about the safety of all witnesses cited in this investigation.

Students gathered near Laleh Park on September 20 around 5-6pm to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died in state custody last month after being arrested by the country’s moral police. depending on how he’s dressed.

In recent weeks, Tehran has seen a familiar scene: young people, mostly women, chanting “death to the dictator”, burning scarves and throwing rocks at security forces.

At one point, a garbage can was brought in to block the road and overturned. Nika jumped to the top with several other people, video footage was shown.

“He burned his headscarf and shook it off. I told him not to wave because you might burn yourself, hold it until it burns,” said Nima, who was also present at the protest and witnessed the incident unfold. “Then he took the handkerchiefs of the two friends who were with him and burned them as well.”

Other videos from the same evening, which were geolocated and verified by CNN, show Nika throwing stones at riot police. He is carrying a CAT backpack and wearing a black mask and hat on his head. Sounds like gunshots are heard.

From 19:00 to 20:00 in the evening, the activity of the security forces increased, witnesses said. “They fired tear gas and pellets and captured the protestors. Almost all of us faced them and ran away,” said Reza, another witness.

As riot police and Basij forces filled the streets, protesters began to move in all directions to escape the pressure.

Another witness, Dina, who walked part of the protest with Nika, told CNN that she saw Nika in front of a gas station not far from Tehran University, where protesters had gathered after fleeing tear gas fired by security forces. . Others managed to videotape the men being detained by plainclothes officers.

Reza added, “I saw with my own eyes the security forces beating the women with sticks, and they grabbed many of them and took them to police vans.”

In the context of the extreme crackdown on protests, Nika was last seen by witnesses who spoke to CNN – and it will be another nine days before her family is officially informed of her whereabouts. Footage verified and geo-located by CNN shows the girl was surrounded on three sides by security forces in footage provided to CNN by the last witness to show that she was alive.

“I think Nika got stuck the night we were running away. Because he was very young,” says Dina.

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

Although Iranian authorities insist that Nika died in an unoccupied building, her mother, Nasreen, said in an October 10 interview with an independent Iranian newspaper that she believed “her daughter participated in a protest and was killed there.”

Iranian security forces arrested eight people working in the building where Nika entered just hours after witnesses saw her at a September 20 protest, state news agency Tasnim reported on October 4. Prosecutor of Tehran Ali Salehi said that the court has opened a criminal case. launched and offered condolences to Nika’s family, state-run IRNA reported.

Mohammad Shahriari, the head of the Criminal Prosecution Department of Tehran Province, initially said that Nika’s injuries were consistent with being “thrown”, citing that many fractures were found in the pelvis, head, upper and lower limbs, hands. legs and thighs, reports Tasnim.

He said that “the investigation showed that this incident had nothing to do with the protests. No bullet marks were found on the body.”

CNN has repeatedly asked Iranian authorities to comment on whether Nika was arrested that night during the protest and other women were assaulted and put in a police car. CNN also asked Tehran’s prosecutor’s office about the status of the criminal investigation into Nika’s death. No responses were received by the time this story was published.

On Wednesday, Mizan, an internet resource linked to Iran’s judiciary, reported that Nika’s death was a suicide.

However, the death certificate, first seen by BBC Persice and confirmed by CNN, said Shahkarami died from multiple blunt force trauma.

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

According to Nasrin, Nika mentioned several places where he had been – Engelab Square, Keshavarz Boulevard and Valiasr Street – which corresponded to CNN’s geolocation.

She said Nasreen last spoke to her daughter just before midnight, after which her attempts to call Nika revealed that Nika’s phone had been disconnected. According to Nika’s aunt and several protesters interviewed by CNN, Nika’s Instagram and Telegram accounts have been deleted.

His family says that they have visited police stations, jails and hospitals in search of him for days, but to no avail. Finally, on September 30, Nika’s mother and brother were asked to identify Nika’s body, he told BBC Persian. .

In an October 6 interview with Farda Radio, Nasreen said that while she and other family members were searching for Nika in the days after her disappearance, a man gave her Nika’s ID number and told her that “the IDF has taken her.” , they wanted to slowly interrogate him.”

This corresponds to Atash, Shahkarami’s aunt. BBC Persian reported shortly after he disappeared. “The unofficial source of the foreign court contacted me and said that this boy was in our custody a week ago, after we finished the investigation and compiled the case files, 1-2 days ago (he) was transferred to the department. Evin prison,” said Atash.

Atash and Nika’s brother Mohsen were later arrested by Iranian security forces and forced to make false statements, BBC Persian reported, citing a source close to the family. When contacted by CNN after being reported by the BBC, Atash asked not to be contacted again due to security concerns.

As the family searches for answers, the people who were by Nika’s side that day are still reeling from her death.

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


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