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March 6, 2023

Blinding Dissent: the Brutal Targeting of Protestors’ Eyesight by Iran’s Security Forces

The killing of Mahsa Amini, a 21-year-old Iranian girl in the custody of the “moral security police”, sparked the most intense protests and brutal crackdown seen in Iran in recent years. One of the most brutal legacies of the still simmering protests is the large number of citizens who have been rendered blind due to security forces firing plastic bullets and paintballs directly into their eyes.

The intensity and scope of these atrocities was underscored by a report from the Iran Human Rights Organization. Published on February 3, the report detailed 22 incidents where security forces of the Islamic Republic shot protesters in the face, concluding that government agents’ actions were “systematic” and “purposeful” in their targeting. Similar reporting from across the country underscore the systematic and horrific efforts by security agents to purposefully blind protesters. 

Several days before this report was published, Hassan Karmi, the commander of Faraja’s special forces, had claimed the special forces were conducting their interactions with protesters “professionally”.

This is not the first time that Iranian authorities have used such brutal force. Bullets were also fired into the eyes of protesting Isfahani farmers in the fall of 2021, among other instances, which led to 15 cases of blindness.

Damage rate of bullets and paintballs

Security forces used a variety of ammunition to target protesters. France 24 reported that in most cases, the bullets that were used to shoot protesters’ eyes were birdshot pellets of various sizes. Birdshot bullets are composed of small pellets with a wider impact circle, but less impact intensity. The dimensions and number of these pellets vary and are usually between 1.75 mm and 5.8 mm. Flying bullets usually have an effective range of 45 meters.

Iranian authorities were also repeatedly documented suppressing protests with paintball guns manufactured by TippMann. Paintball guns consist of a bullet tank and compressed air pump that fires bullets under pressure, and Iranian authorities appear to have adapted the weapon to fire metal or hard rubber bullets, which are specific to shotguns, instead of paintball bullets. 

Below is a list of names of some of the many citizens who were blinded or whose eyes were damaged by repression forces:

Benita Kiani, 5 years old

Ali Del Pasand Moghadam

Hossein Abedini

Nilofar Aghaei

Elaheh Tavaklian

Kowsar Eftekhari

Kowsar Khoshnoudi nia

Ghazal Ranjkesh

Amir Velayati

Kimia Zand

Raheleh Amiri

Ali Mohammadi

Zoha Mousavi

Mohsen Kafshgar

Maton Hasani

Kiarash Pour rasoul

Behzad Hamrahi

Mohammad Farzi

Hossein Naderbeigi

Hossein Hosseinpour

Alvand Kaveh

Hossein Bagherpour

Farid Rashidi

Erfan Shakouri, 13 years old

Hamidreza Panahi

Ophthalmologists community protest letter

One hundred forty ophthalmologists signed a statement and testified that since the protests began in late September, a significant number of protesters had gone to medical centers after being shot in their eyes. 

According to a portion of this letter, “As you know, during recent protest events, a large number of patients with eye injuries have come to medical centers due to being struck by bullets, paintballs and the like, which unfortunately result in loss of vision in most cases. Therefore, it is necessary to reflect the situation to the relevant authorities and give necessary warnings about the irreparable consequences of such severe eye injuries.”

In a period of less than 60 days, at least three letters from a large group of Iranian ophthalmology specialists warned about the irreparable damage caused by shooting the protesters’ eyes. The New York Times reported on November 19 that at least 580 protesters suffered eye injuries, though the number of those injured in these incidents is likely much higher.

Three major hospitals in Tehran (Farabi, Rasul Akram, and Labbafinejad) admitted more than 500 patients with eye injuries during the protests, according to this report. There were also at least 80 eye injuries reported in Kurdistan province. The New York Times report mentions an 18-year-old protester who lost both eyes after being shot. His father said in a voice message to human rights organizations that he couldn’t afford his six surgeries.

It has also been estimated by some doctors that at least 1000 people have been injured in the eye area during the protests of the past months. The cornea specialist Dr. Mohammad Jafar Qaim Panahi said that many of these victims are young people whose severe injuries caused one or both of their eyes to be lost; they are living documents showing the brutal crackdown that met the protests of 1401.

Mahabad, Malekan, and other Kurdistan cities sent 22 injured cases to Alavi Hospital in Tabriz on Saturday, November 19. Mohammad Parsa Sehat (lost both eyes) and Nechirvan were among seven people shot at the funeral of Zina Amini in Saqqez, Kurdistan, on November 11, 2022.

 A picture of one or both eyes with bullet wounds has been published by some of the victims or their families, including Ghazal Ranjkesh, a third-year law student in Bandar Abbas, Parsa Ghoobadi, an 18-year-old from Kermanshah, and Bita Kiani, a six-year-old from Flowerjan, Isfahan.

The details of a girl who was shot in the eye in Karaj and a middle-aged man in the Tehran metro were also omitted from several videos posted online. The eye of Arman Emadi, who was shot in Marvdasht, was lost, who succumbed to his injuries and died of brain damage.

It is clear from these documents that these were not isolated or scattered incidents. There is no doubt that this is a systematic criminal pattern of attacking peaceful communities with the intention of seriously injuring citizens’ eyes. 

What are the attackers trying to accomplish?

Ghazal Ranjkesh has become one of the most well-known victims of the repression forces’ deliberate blinding of protesters. A woman who, with a few sentences, revealed the purposefulness of the brutal attack she endured: “Why did you hit me? Why did you smile?”

She not only didn’t remain silent, but she started to widely inform the public and finally brought greater attention to the brutal targeting. Her Instagram page became a source of information in a matter of days. 

One of these pictures shows Ranjkesh sitting in the middle of a bookstore with strands of loose hair visible. She wears a white hat. On her right eye, a white plastic shield can be seen under the glasses. A book called “Blindness” is in her hand, which tells the story of a city being blinded overnight. It had been a month since she lost sight in her eye. Ghazal, who describes herself as a “writer” on Instagram, said: “Three months have passed since my right eye last recorded a picture… Every time I wanted to cry, I asked myself, if that person could keep his smile in such a situation, or his eyes sparkle; why am I who you found even when you asked me, which eye are you blinding to? I said the color of his eyes was beautiful, it’s a shame; Shall I cry?”

According to Raheleh Amiri, another young woman whose eye was injured by a direct shot, the Basij militia was responsible. Eventually, Mrs. Amiri was able to stand at that spot again after gathering all her strength: “One month and 20 days ago, I was standing right here when a Basij kid shot me in the eye and took the light out of my eyes.”

Elaheh Tavaklian warned that she would probably cry or be afraid if she went to the place where she was attacked again: “We sat on the bench facing this wall and talked and laughed together. I was thinking how much God loved me because he put the best people in my path from the first night.”

In another article, Mrs. Amiri, who is a psychologist, mentioned that someone asked her “Was it worth it?” She replied: “Yes, absolutely!”

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