Student Loses Eye In Iran Police Pellet Attack. REUTERS./

By Natasha Phillips

An investigation into the number of people blinded by Iran’s security forces during the nationwide 2022 protests by the University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley) human rights center published on March 19, found that at least 125 people had been injured.

The probe is part of a wider project led by the Washington-based think tank the Atlantic Council to develop a comprehensive digital archive of open source data. Other organizations and platforms taking part in the project include Amnesty International, the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center and the Azadi Archive.

The center said most of the victims were students under the age of 30, who suffered partial or full loss of sight during brutal state crackdowns on anti-government demonstrations in Iran. The probe was carried out by students at UC Berkeley. Seniors Melinda Zou and Madeleine Wong led the team.

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“As I reviewed photos of injuries and videos of protestors being beaten and shot at, I saw people who were young, like me, and also many women, like me,” Zou said in the press release for the report. “I saw the bravery of people our age — university students taking to the streets and putting their lives on the line.”

Protests erupted in Iran following the death in September 2022 of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for failing to follow the country’s forced hijab laws. Amini died of injuries she sustained while in police custody. The demonstrations began with calls for gender equality under the ‘Woman Life Freedom’ movement but quickly turned into anti-government protests.

“Our team has specifically focused on the blinding of protestors,” Alexa Koenig, the faculty co-director of the human rights center said. “This may however be just the tip of the iceberg with regards to blindings.”

Two of the victims confirmed in the report provided statements on March 19 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, during its 55th session.

FILE PHOTO: Young men are posing for a photograph on a sidewalk in the holy city of Qom, 145 km (90 miles) south of Tehran, at night, on February 8, 2024. Qom is known as the religious capital of Iran and played a pivotal role in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The city has become a center for the struggle against the Pahlavi due to the presence of the Qom Seminary and the sources of emulation. REUTERS./

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Student Kosar Eftekhari was shot in the eye by a security agent using a paintball gun, in Tehran. Eftekhari said the officer threatened to shoot her before pulling the trigger and smiled as he shot at her face. She was sentenced to five months in prison for publicly speaking out about her ordeal but fled to Germany before being imprisoned.

“He shot me intentionally in the eye,” Eftekhari said in a March 18 interview with Germany’s Deutsche Welle. “I have been thinking about the whole thing and wondering why he shot me. My eye is a mark of the crime and the cruelty committed by the Islamic Republic. Wherever I go, I will be living proof of the violent oppression in Iran.”

Hossein Noorinikoo was taking part in the protests in Tehran when officials opened fire on the crowd. A wave of plastic pellets caught Noorinikoo in the face and tore the retina from his left eye.

“The Islamic Republic believes that the lives of Iranian people are worthless,” Noorinikoo told university magazine Berkeley News in a video interview with a translator. “That is not something new — we’ve known it forever. But this awareness … came more to the surface, and it brought us to the boiling point. We came to the street to tell the Islamic Republic: ‘We know our lives are nothing for you, but we are here to defend them.’”

The findings from the report were announced during an online conference which featured a panel of experts including attorney Sara Hossain, the chair for the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The mission, established in November 2022, was tasked by the UN to investigate allegations of human rights violations relating to the 2022 protests in Iran. It presented its report, published on March 8, at the UN Human Rights Council on March 18. The experts found that Amini’s death while in police custody was unlawful and that the state was responsible. The mission’s report also described a range of serious human rights violations by Iran’s regime including the unlawful executions of protestors, and the use of lethal force, rape, torture, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances by the state.

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