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Two Years After Iran’s Deadly Crackdown On Protests, Victims’ Families Still Fighting For Justice

For the past two years, Mahboobeh Ramezani has been grieving the loss of her son while calling for justice over his death at the hands of Iran’s security forces.

Pejman Gholipur was shot and killed during a November 17, 2019, protest in Tehran triggered by a sudden rise in the price of gasoline. He was 18. Ramezani has kept her son’s bloody clothes as evidence that he was murdered.

Gholipur was among thousands of citizens who joined the protests in more than 100 Iranian cities and towns prompted by the government’s sudden decision to increase gas prices. The protests quickly turned political, with many chanting against the Iranian clerical establishment and its leaders.

Mahboobeh Ramezani holds a photo of her slain son.

Mahboobeh Ramezani holds a photo of her slain son.

The government responded with lethal force, according to Amnesty International, which recorded 324 deaths of protesters and bystanders, including children. The London-based rights group believes the real number of those killed is even higher.

Among them was Gholipur, who was reportedly shot in the heart. His family found his body in a hospital hours after he left home to join the demonstrations.

“My son’s bloody clothes are in a box. They’d removed them in the hospital. There were holes in them,” Ramezani testified online last week during a tribunal in London that heard evidence from her and other witnesses about the crackdown on the 2019 protests.

“We want justice. Hear our cries,” Ramezani said. “Tell us who killed our children…. We lost our loved ones in our own homeland,” she told the international people’s tribunal formed by NGOs to assess whether actions by Iran’s clerical establishment constituted “crimes against humanity.” The tribunal, which does not have any legal bearing, is expected to release a report next year.

Ramezani is among the grieving mothers of those killed in the November 2019 protests who have been speaking out about the killings and demanding that the authorities bring those responsible to justice. Many have reportedly faced state intimidation and pressure. But they have refused to be silenced.

“I wished I were dead many times so I could be with Pejman, but I decided to be strong to shout louder on the path of seeking justice,” she told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda in a recent interview. “As long as I breathe, I will not forget [my son’s killing] for a second.”

In a video sent to Radio Farda, Ramezani is seen wailing at her son’s grave on the second anniversary of his killing. “I miss you,” she says, sobbing. “It’s been two years that I have been calling my son’s name.”

Ramezani and other grieving mothers have called on others to speak out against injustice while vowing to never give up the fight. “We’ve gathered here to tell the whole world that we won’t forgive and we won’t forget,” a group of grieving mothers dressed in black said in a video posted on social media last week.

They have been raising their plight in online videos and interviews with Persian-language media based outside the country despite an atmosphere of fear and reported attempts by Iran’s authorities to prevent such families from holding memorials for their loved ones.

Speaking at the London tribunal last week, Nahid Shirpisheh, whose 27-year-old son Pouya Bakhtiari was killed in the 2019 crackdown, said the authorities had pressured her family for speaking out.

“We’ve been threatened and arrested. [My son’s] father is currently in jail,” she said, referring to Bakhtiari’s father, Manuchehr Bakhtiari, who in July was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison after being convicted of “acting against national security.”

The families of other victims of the crackdown have reportedly also faced pressure.

In a video sent to Radio Farda, the relatives of slain protester Hamid Damvar said they recently held a memorial ceremony under the watchful eyes of security forces. “They were watching us and taking photos and videos at the grave of Hamid Damvar,” a woman in the video said of the event honoring the second anniversary of Damvar’s death.

Radio Farda received videos of similar tributes to other slain protesters, including 21-year Arsham Ebrahimi, who was shot dead in the city of Isfahan. His relatives have said that he got caught up in a demonstration by accident. His mother said that two years after his killing, she is still seeking answers.

Amnesty International has said that the security forces’ use of lethal force during the crackdown was “unlawful.”

“In almost all protests that took place between 15 and 19 November, there is no evidence that people were in possession of firearms or that they posed an imminent threat to life that would have warranted the use of lethal force, according to extensive research, including video analysis, conducted by Amnesty International,” the rights group said in a report last week.

Iranian authorities have not held anyone to account for the killings. Last year, an Iranian lawmaker put the number of dead at the protests at 230. The authorities have said that over 350 banks and 140 government sites were set on fire during the violence.

In June 2020, Iran suspended the execution of three men arrested in the protests following a massive social-media campaign joined by many Iranians — including ordinary citizens as well as intellectuals, former politicians, and prominent artists.

One of the three, Ami Hossein Moradi, was released in October on bail, while a lawyer representing the case expressed hope that his two other clients, Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi, would also be released within months.

Reference