As unrest erupted across Iran calling for an end to the Islamic Republic’s rule last month, with young women in big cities and small towns tossing their headscarves onto bonfires to chants of “Women, Life, Freedom,” two teenage girls left their homes to join the protesters.
It was the last time their relatives would see them alive. One family searched frantically for their daughter for 10 days, posting desperate appeals for information on social media; the other found out the fate of their daughter within hours of her disappearance.
But the grim result was the same. The missing teenagers had been killed by the security forces, their families and human rights groups said. One girl’s skull was smashed, and the other girl’s head was cracked by baton blows. Their bodies were handed back to their families bruised and disfigured. They were both just 16.
The two teenagers — Nika Shakarami and Sarina Esmailzadeh — have become the new faces of the protests that have convulsed the country for the past month, the largest and most sustained bout of civil unrest to grip Iran since 2009. Their images appear on posters secretly plastered on walls in cities across Iran and on banners carried by protesters, their names a rallying cry for the fury being directed against the rulers of the Islamic Republic.
Women and girls have been conspicuous on the front lines of the protests, which erupted almost a month ago, as have young people, with even high school students taking part, braving repeated crackdowns by the security services.
The crackdowns have taken a deadly toll: Iran’s Committee to Protect Children’s Rights says 28 children and adolescents have been killed and that many have been detained. The United Nations’ children agency, UNICEF, said this week it was “extremely concerned” by the reports.
The families of the two teenagers and human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Iran Human Rights, say the two girls were killed by security forces after taking part in different protests in late September, Nika in Tehran, and Sarina in the city of Karaj, outside the capital. The security forces smashed Nika’s skull, broke her teeth and dislocated her cheekbone, her mother has said in interviews; Sarina’s head was fractured after she was hit repeatedly with a baton until she bled to death.
The government has said that the two teenagers committed suicide by jumping from rooftops. Family members have repeated that official narrative on state TV, but relatives say those appearances were coerced, and that they have been threatened and even jailed to deter them from saying what really happened to Nika and Sarina. [Continue reading…]