What really happened to Nika Shahkarami? Eyewitnesses to his final hours are skeptical of Iran’s story

What really happened to Nika Shahkarami?  Eyewitnesses to his final hours are skeptical of Iran's story
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An Iranian girl in black stands on top of an overturned trash can and waves her headscarf amid chants of “death to the dictator.”

A little later in the video, he is shown crouching down to take another scarf from his friend, which he will also burn 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 went missing in videos obtained and verified exclusively by CNN. And more than a week later, his family learned that he had died.

Iranian officials claimed that Nika’s body was found in the back yard on September 21 in the morning. His mother was not allowed to identify him after 8 days. CCTV footage released by authorities just after 00:00 on 20 September 21 showed the figure of a masked man who they say Nika entered an uninhabited 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, although he ruled his death a homicide, but did not say if there were any suspects. As part of the investigation. State broadcasters said he had “collapsed”, but provided no evidence to support the claim 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 inquiries about Nika’s death

Authorities never explained why Nika entered the building alone, and Nika’s mother said she did not believe the masked man was Nika. Her mother 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 eyewitness accounts obtained exclusively by CNN show that Nika was chased and detained by Iranian security forces that night. One of the key witnesses, Ladan, told CNN that he saw Nika being taken into custody by “several burly plainclothes security officers” at the protest.

Minutes earlier, this witness captured a video of Shahkarami crouching behind a white car yelling “tekoon nakon, tekoon nakon” — meaning “don’t move, don’t move” — while stuck in a Tehran traffic jam. The driver ran away a short time ago and gave him shelter.

Seven people who knew Nika and spoke to CNN confirmed that it was him. In the video, which was filmed on September 20 at 8:37 p.m., it can be seen that the police are patrolling the area against riots on motorcycles.

“I wanted to save him, but I couldn’t,” Ladan said. “There were about 20 or 30 Basijis riding motorcycles on the sidewalk,” he said, using the local name for the paramilitary organization at the forefront of the province’s crackdown on protesters.

“Shahkarami threw stones at them. I was scared and even passed him and said: “Be careful, dear!” because several plainclothes policemen were looking for him as they passed through the cars on the streets.

“Fifty meters ahead they caught him,” Ladan added.

Ladan reached out to CNN after realizing that the teenager he had photographed and spoken to was the same person who was reported dead a few days later. CNN spoke exclusively with several witnesses to the September 20 protest in Tehran with the help of the activist group 1500 Images.

Other videos, including one of him burning a scarf, are evidence that Nika was at the front of the protests earlier in the night, before the crackdown began – fearlessly chanting slogans and throwing stones, according to several accounts.

This would make him a target for the security forces, including his members Iran’s feared Basij militiaAccording to witnesses, when they started descending on the area around Tehran University and Keshavarz Boulevard, where most of the protesters gathered in the evening.

“I remember how brave he was because he would climb on the litter box and not get off. He also burned his headscarf,” said protester Najma, who was with Nika at the demonstration.

CNN is using pseudonyms because of the threat to the safety of all witnesses quoted in this investigation.

On September 20, around 17-18 in the evening, students gathered near Laleh Park and protested the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman of Kurdish origin, who was detained by the country’s moral police last month. because of how he dresses.

It was a familiar scene in Tehran in recent weeks: young people, mostly women, chanting “death to the dictator”, burning headscarves and throwing stones at security forces.

At one point, a trash can was brought in to block the road and it overturned. Nika climbed to the top with several others, video footage was shown.

“He lit his scarf and waved it. I told him not to wave, because you can burn yourself, hold it until it burns,” said Nima, who was at the rally and saw the course of events. Later, he took the hijabs of his two friends who were with him and set them on fire.”

In other videos from that evening, geolocated and verified by CNN, Nika throws rocks at riot police. He carries a distinctive CAT backpack and wears a black mask and hat on his head. Sounds like gunshots are heard.

According to the witnesses, from 7 pm to 8 pm, the pressure of the security forces intensified. “They fired tear gas and pellets and arrested the protesters. “Almost all of us ran away from them,” says another witness, Rza.

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

Another witness, Dina, who spent part of the protest walking with Nika, told CNN that she saw Nika in front of a gas station near Tehran University, where a group of protesters had gathered after escaping tear gas fired by security forces. . Others were able to videotape being detained by plainclothes officers.

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

In the context of the extreme crackdown on the protest, Nika was last seen by witnesses who spoke to CNN, and it would be another nine days before her family was officially informed of her whereabouts. In the latest eyewitness footage provided to CNN, verified and geolocated videos by CNN show that the girl was surrounded by security forces on three sides.

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

Nika Shahkarami appeared in the picture shared by Atash Shahkarami on Twitter.

Although Iranian officials insist that Nika died in an uninhabited building, her mother, Nasrin, said in an October 10 interview with the independent Iranian newspaper Etemad that she believed her daughter “was at the rallies and was killed there.”

Iranian security forces have arrested eight people who worked at the building Nika allegedly entered hours after witnesses saw him during the September 20 protests, the state-run Tasnim news agency reported on October 4. Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi said that there is a criminal case. According to the IRNA state agency, he expressed his condolences to Nika’s family.

Mohammad Shahriari, head of criminal prosecution of Tehran province, initially said Nika’s injuries were consistent with a “fall” and said that during the autopsy, multiple fractures were found in the pelvis, head, upper and lower limbs, and hands. , legs and hips, reports Tasnim.

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

CNN has repeatedly asked Iranian officials for comment on whether Nika was detained at the demonstrations that night and whether other women were attacked and put into police cars. CNN also asked the Tehran prosecutor’s office about the status of the criminal investigation into Nika’s death. No response was received by the time this story was published.

On Wednesday, Mizan, an online news outlet linked to Iran’s judiciary, published a report saying Nika’s death was a suicide.

However, the death certificate, first seen by BBC Farsca and confirmed by CNN, said Shahkarami died of multiple blunt force injuries.

Etemad said in an interview that he spoke to Shahkarami on the phone many times on the day of Nasr’s disappearance. Nasrin added that the background noise during the calls indicated that he and other protesters were running away from security forces. .

According to Nasri, who matched the videos geolocated by CNN, Nika also mentioned several places where he was – Enghelab Square, Keshavarz Boulevard and Valiyasr Street.

The last time Nasr spoke to his daughter was before midnight and his attempts to call Nika after that 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.

His family said they spent days searching for him at police stations, prisons and hospitals, but to no avail. Finally, on September 30, Nika’s mother and brother were asked to identify Nika’s body, he told BBC Fars. .

On October 6 a Interview with Radio FardaNasrin claimed that when he and other family members were looking for Nika a few days after her disappearance, someone gave him Nika’s national identity number and said, “IKK have taken it and want to interrogate her slowly.”

This corresponds to what Atash, Shahkarami’s aunt, said. This was reported by BBC Farsi shortly after disappearing. “The unofficial source of the Sepah Guards themselves contacted me and said that this child was in our custody a week ago and after we questioned and compiled case materials, (he) was handed over 1-2 days ago. The prison of the house”, said Ataş.

Atash and Nika’s uncle Mohsun was later arrested by Iranian security forces and forced to give false testimony. According to BBC FarscaThis was reported by a source close to the family. Atash, who reached CNN after the BBC report, asked not to be contacted again, citing security concerns.

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

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

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