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


An Iranian girl dressed in black stands atop an overturned trash can, waving her scarf as it engulfs in flames, amid chants of “Death to the dictator.”

A moment later, the video shows, she is bending down to take another scarf from a friend, which she will set on fire in front of the protesters.

The girl was 16-year-old Nika Shahkarami, who hailed from Tehran. Hours after the 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 she was dead.

Iranian authorities claimed Nika’s body was found in a backyard on the morning of September 21. His mother was not given access to identify him until 8 days later. CCTV footage released by authorities, time-stamped shortly after midnight as September 20 became September 21, shows a masked man they say is Nika. Entering a building that was uninhabited, and still under construction in Tehran.

A prosecutor in Tehran initially said she died after being thrown from the building’s roof, and that her death was unrelated to the day’s protests, but was apparently ruled a homicide. However, he did not say if there were any suspects. Under investigation. State broadcasters reported that she “collapsed” but did not provide evidence to support the claim that it was an accident.

When CNN asked the government to comment on the evidence in the investigation on Wednesday, an Iranian media report quoted a Tehran prosecutor 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 man is Nika. His mother has said she believes Nika was killed by authorities, but authorities have never said whether Nika was in their custody at any time.

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

Moments earlier, this witness, stuck in Tehran traffic, made a video that allegedly shows Shahkarami ducking behind a white car and chanting “takoon nakon, takon nakon” – which means ” Don’t move, don’t move” – the driver gave him before fleeing the brief refuge.

Seven people who knew Nika and spoke to CNN confirmed it was him. The same footage, filmed at 8.37pm on September 20, also shows anti-rights police on motorbikes patrolling the area.

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

Shakrami was throwing stones at them. I was scared and I passed him and said, ‘Be careful dear!’ Because a large number of police in plainclothes were driving through the streets looking for him.

“Fifty meters further they took him,” added Laden.

Laden came forward to CNN after realizing that the young man he had filmed and spoken to was the same one who was reported dead days later. CNN spoke exclusively to several witnesses who were at the Tehran protests on September 20, supported by the activist group 1500 Tasvir.

Other videos, including one of a scarf being burned, show that Nika was at the forefront of protests earlier that night, before the crackdown began – brazenly chanting and throwing stones, according to multiple testimonies. was

Witnesses said that would have made her a target for security forces, including members of Iran’s feared Basij militia, as they began to descend on the area around Tehran University and Keshwars Boulevard, where she was killed that evening. Most of the protesters were gathered.

“I remember how brave she was because she climbed onto the garbage can and didn’t come down. She even burned the scarf on her head,” said Najma, a protester who accompanied Nika to the demonstration.

CNN is using pseudonyms for all witnesses referred to in this investigation, due to the threat to their safety.

Students gathered near Lala Park around 5-6pm on September 20 to protest the death of Mehsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who was detained last month by the country’s moral police. She later died in state custody. How her clothes were allegedly worn.

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

At one point, a garbage can was brought in and overturned to block the road. Video footage shows Nika climbing up with a few other people.

“He lit a scarf on his head and waved it. I told him not to wave it because you can burn yourself, just hold it until it burns,” said Nima, who protested. I was also there and saw the events unfolding. “Then he took the headscarves of the two friends with him and burnt them too.”

Other videos from that evening, verified by geolocation and CNN, show Nika throwing rocks at riot police forces. He carries a distinctive CAT rucksack and has a black mask and hat on his head. Gunshots can be heard.

Eyewitnesses said that the crackdown by the security forces intensified from 7 to 8 pm. “They were firing tear gas and pellet shots and grabbing the protesters. Almost all of us were facing them and running away,” said Raza, another witness.

As riot police and Basij forces filled the streets, protesters began moving in all directions to avoid the crackdown.

Another witness, Dina, who spent part of the protest walking with Nika, told CNN that she saw Nika in front of a gas station not far from Tehran University, where a group of protesters turned toward security forces. was collected after running away from the tear gas launched from . Others managed to capture video of the detainees being seen in plain clothes.

Raza added: “I saw with my own eyes that the security forces beat the women with sticks, and they grabbed many of them and took them to the police van.”

It is in the wake of intense repression of protests that Nika was last seen by witnesses who spoke to CNN – and it would be another nine days before her family was officially informed of her whereabouts. Videos verified and geo-located by CNN show that the girl, shown alive in the last witness footage provided to CNN, was surrounded on three sides by security forces.

“I think Nika got stuck that night when we were running because she was so young,” Dina said.

Nika Shahkarami is seen in a picture posted on Atish Shahkarami's Twitter feed.

While Iranian authorities insist Nika died on the base of the uninhabited building, her mother Nasreen told the independent Iranian newspaper Etimad in an interview published on October 10 that she believed her daughter ” She was in the protests and was killed there.”

The state-run Tasnim news agency reported on October 4 that Iranian security forces arrested eight people who were supposed to be working at the building in which Nika was allegedly located, hours after witnesses witnessed the September 20 protests. had entered Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi said a judicial criminal case had been launched, state agency IRNA said, and offered his condolences to Nika’s family.

Mohammad Shahryari, head of criminal prosecution in Tehran province, initially said Nika’s injuries were consistent with being “thrown down”, citing an autopsy that showed multiple injuries to the pelvis, head, upper and lower limbs, hands. A fracture is revealed. Feet and hips, reported Tasnim.

“Investigations show that the incident had nothing to do with the protest. No bullet holes were found on the body,” he added.

CNN has repeatedly sought comment from Iranian officials about whether Nika was detained at the protests that night and whether other women were assaulted and put into police cars. CNN also asked Tehran’s prosecutor’s office about the status of the criminal investigation into Nika’s death. No response was received prior to publication of this story.

On Wednesday, Meezan, an online news outlet affiliated with Iran’s judiciary, published a report saying Nika’s death was a suicide, citing the prosecutor.

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

In an interview with Etimad, Nasreen said that she spoke to Shahkrami several times on the phone on the day she went missing. Nasreen added that background noise during the calls indicated that he and other protesters were fleeing from security forces. I

According to Nasreen, Nika also mentioned a few places where she had been – Englab Square, Keshawars Boulevard and Wallasar Street – which corresponded to CNN’s geographical location.

Nasreen last spoke to her daughter before midnight, she said, and all her attempts to call Nika after that 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, his family say they visited police stations, jails and hospitals to find a trace of him, all to no avail. He told BBC Persian that finally on September 30, Nika’s mother and brother were asked to identify Nika’s body. I

On 6 October, in an interview with Radio Farda, Nasreen claimed that while she and other family members were searching for Nika in the days following her disappearance, a man gave her Nika’s national identification number and told her That “the IRGC has got it. They wanted to slowly interrogate it.”

Who meets Shahkarami’s aunt Atish told BBC Farsi Soon after he disappeared. “An unofficial source of the IRGC itself contacted me and said, this child was in our custody a week ago, and after we made inquiries and made a case file, we transferred (him) 1 or 2 days ago. It was done. Even prison,” Atish said.

Attish and Nika’s uncle, Mohsin, was later arrested by Iranian security forces and forced to make a false statement, according to BBC Persian, citing sources close to the family. After the BBC’s reporting, when reached by CNN, Atish asked not to be contacted again, citing security concerns.

While the family searches for answers, those who were with Nika that day are also haunted by her death.

“The situation was very scary, and everyone thought to escape,” Dina said. “I can’t forgive myself for Nika’s death. He was a child.”


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