Iran Human Rights (IHR) says analysis of protester deaths and eye injuries reveals that women’s eyes and faces were intentionally targeted during last year’s protests.
In a new report, the Oslo-based non-profit based its argument on statistical data gathered about the protests that began in mid-September 2022 and spread across the country. “Women made up 9% of slain protesters and 28% of those who sustained eye injuries,” the report said.
Security forces in Iran use a shotgun shell known as ‘bird shot’ with small metal pellets that is less likely to kill from a distance but can indiscriminately blind people in a crowd. In November 2022, dozens of ophthalmologists warned against the use of shotgun ‘birdshots’ and other projectiles by Iran’s security forces that they said had blinded over 500 protesters since mid-September.
The number of injured men and women should be proportionate to those who participated in the protests if the shootings were not intentional, IHR director Mahmoud Amiri-Moghadam told Iran International.
“In Mahabad, 15 percent of those killed are women, while more than half, i.e. 56 percent of eye injuries, were sustained by women,” he said, adding that these figures can only be explained by assuming that security forces intentionally targeted women’s faces and eyes.
“[This shows that] an order had come from above to torture these women and ruin their lives, teach them a lesson to cover their faces and heads for the rest of their lives. I think this shows the seriousness of these crimes, even more serious than we thought because it is a pre-planned, targeted crime, far more serious,” he said. “What they did to women by shooting them directly in the face and eyes was not just inflicting bodily harm, it was also a kind of mental and physical torture, and their goal was to terrorize them.”
Intentional aiming at protesters’ faces and tens of cases of serious eye injuries was first reported during a crackdown on water protests in Isfahan in December 2021.
To justify shooting pellets and plastic bullets at protesters which in hundreds of cases caused serious eye injuries, even blindness, authorities argue that security forces were forced to shoot at protesters to stop them from causing harm to others or damaging public property.
The organization has published 95 cases of eye injury and blindness from last year’s protests with names, photos and injury descriptions. Amiri-Moghadam says documenting what happened to the wounded is difficult because they and their families are threatened by security and intelligence bodies. “In 43 cases, we withheld the names.”
Intentional targeting of genital areas was also reported in 2022 protests.
“The international community has formed a fact-finding committee, but what they can do is limited because they are not allowed entry into Iran. What they can do depends on how much documentation they can get. What these eye victims did is important for preventing the repetition of these crimes in the future,” he said.
According to Amiri-Moghadam, the international community will find making more concessions to the Islamic Republic difficult if the fact-finding committee comes to the conclusion that a crime against humanity has been committed and they will be pressured to demand accountability from the leaders of the Islamic Republic.