Iranians are risking it all to protest. Their families say some of them aren’t coming home

“He called me and said just one sentence: ‘I was caught’…I immediately understood what my dear brother meant and I went to the moral police department (to look for him),” the 22-year-old said. , who asked CNN to use a pseudonym for security reasons.

Farnaz said his older brother, an accountant, had joined protests against the “repressive regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ibrahim Raisi” in the southeastern Iranian city of Kerman on Monday when “plainclothes officers” Intruded into the crowd and forced the “force”. People in the moral police van.”

Amini’s suspicious death has become a symbol of decades of violent oppression of women in Iran — and protesters say, once again, the government has blood on its hands.

Since last week, at least 17 people have been killed in violent clashes between protesters and security forces, according to semi-official news agencies. CNN cannot independently verify the death toll. Apart from the protesters, two members of Iran’s paramilitary group were also killed.

In the terrifying hours following her brother’s disappearance, Farnaz and her parents traveled to the Kerman branch of the Moral Police to demand answers.

Instead, they say they encountered a sea of ​​other families looking for their loved ones — many of whom said they were threatened by police.

It’s been four days since Fernaz saw her brother, and she’s worried that he’s never coming home.

“My brother is imprisoned by these cruel people and we don’t even know about his condition,” he said.

CNN has confirmed video showing armed police clashing with protesters in Kerman’s Azadi Square on Monday — where Farnaz says her brother has been taken.

On Thursday, the United States sanctioned a number of ethics police and security officials it believes are responsible for Amini’s death.

‘Brutal in recognition of Iranians’

Amini’s family last saw him alive on Sept. 13, when he was “punched in the head” by Tehran’s morality police in the back of a car before being driven away, his cousin Diako Aili told CNN.

CCTV footage released by Iran’s state media showed Amini collapsing later that day in a “re-education” center in Tehran, where he was escorted by morality police officers to receive “guidance”. It was taken for what kind of clothes she used to wear.

Two hours later, he was transferred to Kisra Hospital in Tehran.

According to Aili, doctors at Kisra Hospital, where Amini was treated, told his immediate family that he was admitted with “brain damage on arrival” because “his head injuries were so severe.”

Iran's president refused an interview with CNN after Amanpour rejected a request for a headscarf.

Aili lives in Norway and has not spoken to Amini since July, but is in frequent contact with her parents. He said that none of his relatives were allowed to see his body in the hospital room.

“She died three days later in a coma … a 22-year-old young woman with no heart disease or anything … she was a happy girl who lived in a not-so-good country, that dream. With that I will never see. Know about,” said Ali.

CNN could not independently verify Ali’s account with hospital officials.

Iranian officials say Amini died of a heart attack and have denied any wrongdoing.

Late last week, the government said the autopsy had been completed, but was still being reviewed.

A family photo of Mahsa Amini as a child.

An official investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death is “ongoing,” but it has done little to stop the unrest in the streets — as have the scenes of the protests, their geographic spread, ferocity and symbolism. Fandom, flooding social media, shows up. It is the biggest show of public anger in Iran since protests over food and fuel price hikes in 2019.

For Shema Babai, who fled Iran in 2020 after serving time in Tehran’s notorious Evan prison for not wearing a headscarf, Amini’s death is particularly troubling.

“Her death reminds me of the police brutality, not only against me, but thousands of Iranian women who have had these experiences. In the same building as the Moral Police headquarters, they treated me like a criminal, handcuffed me. Put it on. I was humiliated,” the women’s rights activist, who now lives in Belgium, told CNN.

Babai — who has a large social media presence in Iran — knows what it’s like to be an accidental symbol of protest. Her name became synonymous with the “Girls of Revolution Street” anti-hijab protests across Iran from 2017 to 2019.

But she says the mood seems different this time.

“I think this is the beginning of something. Women are setting their scarves on fire and erasing any sign of the regime from the streets… Sooner or later the Iranian people will be free and we will remember those people. will keep those who stand with us.”

Concerns over the authorities’ next steps

Internet blackouts authorities introduced on Thursday in an attempt to quell the unrest have had little effect. Human rights organizations are now worried about what Iranian authorities might do next under the cover of darkness.

Iran’s military issued a warning to protesters and said it was ready to “confront enemies” to defend the country’s security, state news agency IRNA said, as protests erupted in several cities on Thursday night.

It added that the army “strongly condemned” the attacks on the police and would “counter the various plots of the enemies and defend the security and interests of the Iranian nation.” According to Iranian semi-official media, at least 17 people have been killed during protests over the past week.

According to Amnesty International, following the November 2019 protests, hundreds of Iranians were arrested, tortured, imprisoned and in some cases even sentenced to death.

Mansoura Mills, who works in the organization’s Iran team, describes today’s situation as a “crisis of immunity” due to international inaction.

Mills told CNN, “We are receiving reports that young people have been deliberately shot with metal pellets and other bullets, causing death or horrific injuries. This is a brutal treatment of Iranians by the authorities. There is an intense effort to acknowledge.”

For Ali — who has been watching the protests from afar — that fear is now for relatives in Iran who spoke about Amini’s death.

He said the government had offered to take care of his family financially if he kept quiet about his cousin’s case, but he decided to come forward with his story.

“Why did you kill a 22-year-old girl who is innocent?”

“No one deserves to die just because they’re showing some hair or saying what they’re thinking… it’s a waste of life,” Alley told CNN.

CNN’s Mustafa Salim and Celine Al-Khaldi contributed reporting.

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