DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The mother of a 16-year-old Iranian girl has disputed official claims that her daughter fell to her death from a high-rise building, saying the teenager was killed by blows to the head as part of a crackdown on anti-hijab protests that they are shaking the country.
Nasreen Shakarami also said authorities kept her daughter Nika’s death a secret for nine days and then grabbed the body from a morgue to bury her in a remote area, against the family’s wishes. The bereaved mother spoke in a video on Thursday to Radio Farda, the Persian arm of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty station.
Nika Shakarami has become the latest symbol of the protests, seen as the biggest threat to Iran’s ruling elites in years. Efforts by authorities in recent days to portray the teenager’s death as an accident could signal concern that the incident could spark further anger against the government.
The protests, which entered their fourth week on Saturday, were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini who was detained by morality police. They had arrested Amini for alleged violations of the country’s strict Islamic dress code.
Young women often lead the protests, tearing and waving their headscarves defiantly as they call for the overthrow of the government.
The protests quickly spread to communities across Iran and were met by a harsh government crackdown, including beatings, arrests and killings of protesters, as well as internet blackouts.
Human rights organizations estimate that dozens of protesters have been killed in the past three weeks. On Thursday, London-based group Amnesty International released its findings on what appears to be the deadliest incident so far — in the town of Zahedan on September 30.
The report said Iranian security forces killed at least 66 people, including children, and injured hundreds after firing live shots at protesters, bystanders and worshipers in a violent crackdown that day. Iranian authorities claimed that the violence in Zahedan involved unnamed separatists. More than a dozen people have since been killed in the area, the report said.
Meanwhile, Nika Shakarami’s mother pushed back against efforts by officials to rule her daughter’s death an accident.
In her message on the video she said that the forensic report showed that Nika died from repeated blows to the head.
Nika’s body was intact, but some of her teeth, bones in her face and part of the back of her skull were broken, he said. “The damage was to her head,” he said. “Her body was intact, her arms and legs.”
Earlier this week, Iran’s police chief, General Hossein Astari, claimed the teenager had gone into a building “and fell from the top floor at a rally hour”. He said that “the fall from that height led to her death.”
Nasreen Shakarami said her daughter left her home in Tehran on the evening of September 19 to join the anti-hijab protests. He said he called Nika several times over the next few hours, begging her to come home. They last spoke before midnight. “At that time Nika’s mobile phone was switched off as she and her friends were shouting names of forces as they left,” he said.
The next morning, the family looked for Nika at police stations and prisons, but had no news of her whereabouts for nine days. The authorities finally handed over the body on the 10th day and the family headed to Khoramabad city for burial, he said. The authorities have repeatedly requested to take possession of the body, which has meanwhile been kept at the Horamabad mortuary.
On the day of the scheduled funeral, the family learned that the body had been seized from the mortuary and taken to a remote village for burial under tight security, Nasreen Shakarami said.
Since the confirmation of her death, Nika has emerged as another symbol of the protests, alongside Amini. A photo of Nika, wearing a black T-shirt and wearing a stylish two-tone bob haircut and eyeliner, has been widely circulated on social media.
Authorities arrested Nasreen Shakarami’s brother and sister. The sister, Atash, later told Iranian television that her niece had fallen from a tall building.
Nika’s mother said she believes her siblings were pressured to repeat the official version.
Iran has a long history of broadcasting forced confessions.
Also on Friday, the official IRNA news agency cited the medical examiner’s office as saying tests found Mahsa Amini died of cerebral hypoxia — in which the supply of oxygen to the brain is reduced. He said she suffered multiple organ failure but “her death was not caused by blunt force trauma to the head, organs and vital parts of the body”.
It said Amini suffered cardiac arrhythmia, hypotension and loss of consciousness before being taken to a hospital.
Amini’s family has previously disputed official reports of their daughter’s death and its cause while in police custody.