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Rights group says Iran’s security forces ‘intentionally’ shot protesters in the eyes

Targeting of Protestors’ Eyesight by Iran’s Security Forces (National Iranian American Council/Released)
September 27, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Iran Human Rights group (IHRNGO) said the Islamic nation’s security forces “intentionally targeted” the eyes and faces of protesters during a violent crackdown on demonstrations last year sparkled by the death of a young woman in police custody for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law.

In an analysis published on September 22, the Norway-based rights group said it was able to verify 138 cases of eye injuries sustained during the months-long, nationwide protests in Iran last year. Many of the victims lost vision in one eye, some in both.

“IHRNGO’s analysis shows that the brutal crimes committed during the protests by the Islamic republic were planned, coordinated and calculated,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, head of the rights group.

“The Islamic republic leader, Ali Khamenei, and all the perpetrators of such crimes must be held accountable.”

Reports of Iranian security forces shooting protesters in the eyes emerged in the first months of the demonstrations, which began immediately following the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16, 2022. The victims say they were purposely singled out before being wounded.

The Iranian government and senior security officials have rejected the accusations.

The victims include eight children, the youngest a 5-year-old girl, Iran Human Rights said.

Women accounted for 28 percent of those with eye injuries but only 9 percent of deaths, implying the “repressive forces have chosen to intentionally target women’s eyes instead of fatally shooting them,” the group said in its report.

In a smaller sample collected from the city of Mahabad, northwestern Iran, women constitute 56 percent of those with eye injuries, the group said.

Most eye injuries were caused by pellets made of metal and plastic. In nine of the cases, the injuries were caused by projectiles fired from paintball guns.

The rights group’s data shows that Iran’s security forces started shooting protesters in the eyes from the first days of protests in September 2022, while the last documented cases are from December 2022.

The actual number of protesters who have been blinded by security forces after being shot in the face is unknown.

The New York Times has estimated some 500 young Iranians were treated in Tehran hospitals for eye injuries during the first three months of the protests.

Iranwire, which documents human rights abuses in Iran, said it had confirmed some 580 cases of blinding in Tehran and the province of Kurdistan alone, “but the actual numbers across the country are much higher.”

RFE/RL is unable to verify such reports.

Rights activists have reported several cases of protesters with eye injuries who were arrested in an apparent attempt to be silenced.

In addition to eye and other serious injuries, more than 500 people, including 71 children were killed during the demonstrations trigged by the death of Amini, who was arrested for allegedly violating strict dress rules for women.

The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.