What really happened to Nika Shahkarami? Witnesses to her final hours cast doubt on Iran’s story | CNN


An Iranian girl dressed in black stands atop an overturned garbage can, waving her scarf engulfed in flames while chanting “Death to the Dictator.”

Moments later, the video shows, she crouches down to collect another scarf from a friend, which she also sets on fire in front of the protesters.

The girl was 16-year-old Nika Shahkarmi, from Tehran. Hours after these scenes were recorded on September 20, in videos obtained and verified exclusively by CNN, Nika went missing. And more than a week later, her family learned that she had died.

Iranian authorities claimed that Nika’s body was found in the backyard on the morning of September 21. Her mother was not admitted until 8 days later to confirm her identity. CCTV footage released by authorities on September 20 was timestamped after midnight on September 21, showing a masked figure in what they said was Nika entering a deserted building and still under construction in Tehran.

A Tehran lawyer initially said she died after being thrown from the building’s roof and that her death had “nothing to do with the taboos” of the day, but did not say whether there were any suspects, despite apparently declaring her death a homicide. Investigation is ongoing. State broadcasters reported that she “fell” but did not provide evidence to support the claim that it was an accident.

On Wednesday, after CNN asked the government to comment on the evidence in the investigation, Iranian media cited a Tehran lawyer as saying Nika’s death was a suicide. Iranian officials have not yet responded to CNN’s repeated inquiries about Nika’s death

Authorities have never explained why Nika would enter the building by herself, and Nika’s mother has said she does not believe the masked person is Nika. Her mother has said she believes Nika was killed by authorities, but authorities have never said whether Nika is in their custody.

But dozens of videos and eyewitness accounts obtained exclusively by CNN indicate that Nika was chased down and detained by Iranian security forces that night. A key eyewitness, Ladan, told CNN that she was detained during the protest by “several large-bodied plainclothes security officers”, who put her in a car.

Moments earlier, this witness filmed a video allegedly showing Shahkarami leaning into the back of a white car and shouting “tekoon nakhor, tekoon nakhor” – meaning “don’t move, don’t move” – while stuck in Tehran traffic. The driver gave her brief shelter before fleeing.

Seven people who knew the result and spoke to CNN confirmed it was the same. The same footage, shot at 8.37pm on September 20, shows anti-riot police on motorbikes patrolling the area.

“I wanted to save her, but I couldn’t,” Ladan said. “There were about 20 or 30 Basjis on motorcycles on the sidewalk,” she said, using the local name for the paramilitary organization that has been at the forefront of the state’s crackdown on protesters.

” Shahkarmi was throwing stones at them. I got scared and I went after her and said, ‘Be careful dear!’ Because many plainclothes policemen were passing through the streets in cars looking for her.

“Fifty meters later they got it,” Ladan added.

Ladan came forward to CNN after realizing that the teenager she had filmed and spoken to was the same one whose death was reported days later. CNN, with the help of the activist group 1500 Tasvir, spoke exclusively to several witnesses who attended the September 20 Tehran demonstration.

Other videos, including one of a scarf being burned, are evidence that Nika was at the forefront of protests the night before, before the crackdown began – fearlessly leading chants and throwing stones, according to multiple testimonies.

That would have made it a target of the security forces along with its members Fear of Iran’s Basij militiaWitnesses said they began descending on areas around Tehran University and Keshavarz Boulevard where most of the protesters had gathered that evening.

“I remember how brave she was because she would go up to the dumpster and not come down. She also burnt her headscarf,” said Najmeh, who attended the demonstration with Nika.

CNN is using pseudonyms for all witnesses cited in this investigation, due to concerns about their safety.

Students gathered near Laleh Park between 5 and 6 pm on September 20 to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died in state custody after being detained by the country’s morality police last month. How she was allegedly dressed

The scene has become familiar in Tehran in recent weeks: young people, mostly women, chanting “Death to the dictator”, burning headscarves and throwing stones at security forces.

At one point, he overturned to block the road with a garbage can. Nika jumped to the top along with a few others, video footage showed.

“She burned the headscarf and waved it. I told her not to wave because you can burn yourself, hold it until it burns,” said Nima, who was also present at the protest and saw the incident unfold. “Then she took the scarves of the two friends who were with her and burned them too.”

In other videos from that evening, geo-located and verified by CNN, Niyala is shown throwing stones at anti-riot police forces. She carries a distinctive CAT rucksack and wears a black mask and hat on her head. Sounds like gunshots are heard.

Eyewitnesses said that the action of the security forces intensified from 7 to 8 pm. “They were firing tear gas canisters and bullets and were arresting the protesters. Almost all of us were facing them and running away,” said Raza, another witness.

With anti-riot police and Basij forces filling the streets, protesters began moving in all directions to escape the crackdown.

Another witness, Dina, who spent some of the protest on Nika’s side, told CNN that she saw the results in front of a gas station not far from Tehran University, where a group of protesters had gathered after security forces fired tear gas. . Others managed to capture video of the detainees posing as plainclothes officers.

Raza added: “I saw with my own eyes security forces beating women with sticks and they grabbed many of them and took them into police vans.”

It was in the context of the extreme repression of the protest that the verdict was seen by the last witnesses who spoke to CNN – and it would be another nine days before her family was officially told of her whereabouts. Videos verified and geo-located by CNN proved that the last witness footage provided to CNN shows the girl alive, surrounded by security forces on three sides.

“I think Nika got stuck that night when we were on the run. Because she was so young,” Dina said.

While Iranian officials insist that Nika died in the deserted building, her mother Nasreen told the independent Iranian newspaper Etemad in an interview published on October 10 that she believed her daughter “was in a taboo and was killed there”.

Iranian security forces arrested eight people Nika allegedly worked at the building hours after witnesses saw her during the September 20 protest, state-aligned news agency Tasnim reported on October 4. Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi said the court had launched a criminal case and offered his condolences to Nika’s family, state-run IRNA reported.

Mohammad Shahrari, the head of criminal prosecution in Tehran province, initially said that Nika’s injuries were related to being “thrown down”. An autopsy revealed multiple fractures to the pelvis, head, upper and lower limbs, arms. Legs and hips, reports Tasneem.

He further said, “Investigation has shown that this incident has nothing to do with protest. No bullet holes were found on the body.”

CNN has repeatedly sought comment from Iranian authorities on whether the verdict protests were detained that night and whether other women were assaulted and placed in police vehicles. CNN asked Tehran’s prosecutor’s office about the status of the criminal investigation into Nika’s death. No responses were received prior to publication of this story.

On Wednesday, Mizan, an online news outlet affiliated with Iran’s judiciary, reported Nika’s death as a suicide, citing a Tehran lawyer.

However, the death certificate, first seen by BBC Persian and verified by CNN, said Shahkarmi died of multiple blunt force injuries.

In an interview with Etemad, Nasreen said that she had spoken to Shahkarami several times on the phone on the day she went missing. Background noise during the call indicated that she and other protesters were running away from security forces, Nasreen added. of

According to Nasreen, Nika also mentioned the locations she was in – Engelab Square, Keshawarz Boulevard and Waliasar Street – which matched the videos geolocated by CNN.

Nasreen last spoke to her daughter just before midnight, she said, and all subsequent attempts to call Niyala indicated that Nika’s phone had been disconnected. According to Nika’s aunt and several protesters who spoke to CNN, Nika’s Instagram and Telegram accounts were deleted.

For days, her family says they searched for her at the police station, jail and hospital, but to no avail. Finally, on September 30, Nika’s mother and brother were asked to identify Nika’s body, she told BBC Persian. of

On October 6, a Interview with Radio FardaNasreen claimed that while she and other family members were searching for Nika in the days after her disappearance, a man gave her Nika’s national ID number and told her that “the IRGC has got her, they want to interrogate her gradually.”

It coincides with Shahkarmi’s aunt, Atash. told BBC Persian Soon after she disappeared. “An unofficial source from the IRGC itself contacted me and said that this girl was in our custody a week ago and after our inquiry and preparation of the case file, (she) was transferred 1 or 2 days ago. Evin Jail,” Atash said.

Atash and Nika’s uncle Mohsen were later arrested by Iranian security forces and forced to make false statements, According to BBC Persian, citing a source close to the family. After the BBC’s reporting, when contacted by CNN, Atash asked not to be contacted again for security reasons.

As the family searches for answers, those who were with Nika that day are still mourning her death.

“The situation was very dire and everyone thought of running away,” Dina said. “I cannot forgive myself for Nika’s death. She was young.”

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