In exile one year after Mahsa Amini died during Iran’s crackdown, a protester shot in the eye continues to protest.
The shooter of Elahe Tavakolian was so close that she could see him pointing his gun at her.
Her memory recalls that he was about 30 to 40 meters away (100 to 130 feet). The man was a police officer. He was well known to everyone.”
Two men tore down a billboard bearing the face of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei while protesters chanted “death to the dictator.”
Tavakolian shielded her 10-year-old twins and younger sister who had accompanied her to the demonstration when gunshots interrupted the celebrations.
As I watched him point his gun at us, I realized that he was pointing at us. She told CNN that she turned her head sideways out of fear that he might shoot her children. I felt it hit the corner of my eye.”
The evening of September 21, 2022, days after Mahsa Jhina Amini died in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police. In Esfarayen, where Tavakolian was killed, flares of dissent were slowly lighting up cities and small towns.
The protests spread like wildfire in the weeks that followed after the regime repressed them brutally.
Tavakolian describes the protests as like a fire hidden under ashes.
The incident with Mahsa did not cause me any discontent. There is corruption, there is the hijab requirement, there is dictatorship. Iran has a lot of problems. Personally, I have always been a dissident. It is unbearable to live in poverty. She explains why she joined the protests as a former PhD student who also worked in a factory.
Iran would soon become familiar with her motives and her gunshot injury as well.
As she screams in pain in a video a fellow protester later sent to her, she appears with a bloodied face. Her right eye is sprayed with water by protesters who rush to her aid.
The urgent medical treatment Tavakolian needed, however, was not readily available.
The only thing I could see after getting shot was blood. With my hand, I covered my eye. She feels like her eyeball might fall out of its socket if she takes her hand off. “They killed our mother!” my children screamed. Help! She tells CNN in an interview from Milan, Italy, where she has sought asylum.
In recalling the “bitterest” night of her life, she wells up with tears. Her right side of the face is concealed by strands of hair.
Looking for help in a frantic manner
The taxi drivers were afraid of the police and did not stop to help. Her bleeding was seen by a woman driving her car, who locked the doors and drove away, Tavakolian claims. Protesters pulled her away from a man who tried to steer her to an ambulance, saying he was a plainclothes security agent.
She recalls that a couple in a car bravely transported her to the hospital, but it would take hours for her to get medical attention.
A physician refused to treat her after medics washed and patched her eye in the emergency room, she says. According to her, she was left alone for two hours after he said, “I don’t want anything to do with those who are shot.”
Her voice is barely audible in a video taken that night: “I’m in pain.”. She is burning. My life is slipping away from me. Blindness is not something I want.”
Getting proper medical treatment took place only after she was transferred to another city, she claims. To prevent further damage to her eye, doctors advised her to spend almost a month in a dark room after the first surgery. Her eye was still infected by the pellet that injured her.
Eyes are deliberately targeted
While sitting in a dark room in November, she heard gunshots ringing out. At the same time, protesters suffering serious eye injuries were increasing as well. There was still a fight left for Tavakolian. According to Amnesty International, hundreds of protesters had been injured by the time she returned to the streets to protest in November.
Last November, the UN reported that more than 300 people, including more than 40 children, were killed during months-long protests. According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), more than 500 people have died, including 70 children. Thousands of people were arrested across the country last year, according to a UN report released in June.
“I felt compelled to continue. My fight isn’t over yet. Having stepped onto a path, I must finish it. There had been blood shed that shouldn’t have been shed.
Tavakolian says Mahsa Amini’s death was the result of her being killed. My responsibility was to go.”
She initially found it hard to look in the mirror and see a patch covering her right eye, but she soon began posting about her experience publicly on Instagram.
She became a symbol for protesters with similar injuries when she wore a photo with a white heart covering her injured eye.
According to rights activists and activists, government officials targeted protesters’ eyes intentionally as a punishment.
Activist media group IranWire reported that at least 580 protesters suffered injuries resulting from pellets, tear gas canisters, paintball bullets, or other projectiles that were fired at their eyes by the attackers as part of a deliberate and systematic plan to blind them.
There was a public letter sent to the government at the time by more than 100 Iranian ophthalmologists noting the increase in cases and warning about the irreparable consequences of such severe eye injuries.
Such accusations have previously been rejected by Iranian authorities. Iranian billboards depicted people claiming to have been injured in the eye as lying at the time.
CNN has not yet received a response from authorities.
‘The spring cannot be stopped’
As a result of her social media activism, Tavakolian was refused treatment in Iran for a third surgery in November. According to her, she was summoned by the intelligence ministry for leading riots and causing damage to public property.
Eventually, her eye became infected. Concerned for her safety and fearing she would lose her sight in that eye permanently, Tavakolian left the country in March without her family. Roberta Rei, an Italian journalist who covered her story and facilitated her trip to Milan, helped her seek treatment there. In order to save her left eye, doctors at San Raffaele Hospital removed her right eye after finding that the pellet had moved.
As a result of all that hardship, I was able to regain my eye. Suddenly, they told me that my eye and pellet must be removed together,” she recalls with tears in her eyes.
Tavakolian is coming to terms with her new reality after being fitted with a prosthetic eye in Italy. The biggest concern she has is whether she will ever be able to see her children again.
“I’m in a very tough situation. It’s my first time here, and I’m injured and alone. As she says, “I really hope that my life will get back on track and that peace will return to my life.”. In addition to taking Italian classes, she has applied for asylum.
In the meantime, she’s determined to speak out for those inside the country until she can return to Iran one day. The Iranian regime cracked down on protests earlier this year after a deadly crackdown. Some women burned their headscarves to start a movement that still exists today. There are some Iranian women who walk through streets and markets without covering their heads, despite a renewed government campaign to punish them.
Iranian morality police have resumed headscarf patrols since July, and authorities are considering a draconian new bill on hijab-wearing that would enshrine unprecedentedly harsh penalties.
“So many people say this revolution is over. Tavakolian says it’s not over yet. The number of women going out without hijab has increased across the country. Their fear of them has diminished. It is our method of civil resistance.”
She raises her hands in victory as she walks through the busy streets of Milan. A big smile spreads across her face as she removes her big sunglasses and pushes her hair back, revealing the prosthetic eye.
“They shot my eye and others, but the struggle continues.” It doesn’t matter how many they kill, they cannot stop the spring from coming; they can’t keep freedom from returning.”
The news reference is CNN