The faces of repression in Iran

These Iranian women are some of those who have paid with their lives or their freedom for participating in nationwide protests over the death of Mahsa Amini

From left to right,  starting from top row: Nika Shahkarami, Minoo Majidi, Hadis Najafi and Niloofar Hamedi.
From left to right, starting from top row: Nika Shahkarami, Minoo Majidi, Hadis Najafi and Niloofar Hamedi.

Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Iranian woman who died in police custody on September 16 after being arrested by Iran’s morality police for wearing her hijab (head covering) incorrectly, would have silently joined the long list of victims of her country’s repression if not for three million people who responded to the “Say her name” social media campaign. At least 154 people have died at the hands of Iranian security forces after Amini’s death during the largest street protests in recent years, according to the Iran Human Rights organization. Many of the protestors were women, present-day symbols of the Iranian regime’s brutality. Here are the stories of four of these women – three were killed and one is still alive.

Nika Shahkarami

Teenager Nika Shahkarami disappeared on September 20 after she joined the protests over Mahsa Amini’s death and publicly burned her hijab. Her aunt, Atash Shahkarami, told the BBC’s Persian language news service that she called a friend on her way home to tell her that she was being followed by security forces. Then Nika disappeared for 10 days until her family found her body in a Tehran detention center morgue. Nika’s parents were only allowed to see their daughter’s face for a few seconds while the rest of her body remained covered. According to US-based Iranian activist Masih Alinejad, authorities finally handed over the young woman’s remains to the family on September 30. Her nose had been smashed and her skull broken by heavy blows.

Screenshot of Nika Shahkarami from a video that went viral after her death.
Screenshot of Nika Shahkarami from a video that went viral after her death.

The Shahkarami family took Nika’s remains to her father’s hometown of Khorramabad in western Iran, intending to bury her on the day she would have turned 17. Although the family agreed not to hold a funeral, a source quoted by the BBC alleged that security forces stole the body and buried it in another location to forestall more protests during the burial service. A video of this photogenic teenager has gone viral in a country that forces its women to wear modest clothing and dark head coverings. Nika’s friends can be heard laughing as she sings and dances to a love song from Soltane Ghalbha (King of Hearts, in English), a famous 1968 Iranian film. According to the source quoted by the BBC, Nika’s aunt Atash has been arrested for her social media posts about Nika’s death.


Hadis Najafi

“I hope that when I look back a few years from now, I will be happy because everything has changed for the better.” Hadis Najafi, a 22-year-old Iranian woman, recorded these words in a cell phone video on September 21 in the Tehran suburb of Karak. But Nafaji will never know, because just an hour later, she was killed by security forces, according to Amnesty International. Nafaji was shot at point-blank range with buckshot, fatally wounding her in the face, neck and chest.

Najafi’s sister posted a video of the blood-soaked backpack Hadis was carrying when she was killed. Her mother said, “My daughter was killed because of the hijab. She lost her life for Mahsa. She wanted to keep Mahsa’s name alive.” Najafi’s family denounced Iranian authorities for keeping their daughter’s body for several days before turning it over.

Hadis Najafi, 22, was shot dead by security forces on September 21.
Hadis Najafi, 22, was shot dead by security forces on September 21.

Minoo Majidi

Like Nika Shahkarami and Hadis Najafi, Minoo Majidi was not a rebel, just an ordinary Iranian woman. The 62-year-old mother of three was shot and killed on September 20 by security forces in Kermanshah, a Kurdish town in northwestern Iran, according to the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights.

Minoo Majidi, 62, in a family photo.
Minoo Majidi, 62, in a family photo.

One of Majidi’s daughters was photographed in front of her mother’s grave, wearing somber mourning attire and a white scarf around her neck. She had cropped her hair close to the scalp, and was holding her shorn hair in one hand. The bleak image of this solemn but proud young woman has become yet another symbol of the pain suffered by women who live in a country where cutting one’s hair is a sign of grief and resistance.

Niloofar Hamedi

Niloofar Hamedi is an Iranian journalist who works for Shargh Daily, a quasi-reformist newspaper in Iran. She was investigating the role of the morality police in Iranian society when she entered Tehran’s Kasra Hospital on September 16. She was there to report on a woman who had just died after being arrested by the morality police three days earlier for wearing her hijab incorrectly – it was Mahsa Amini. Later that day, Hamedi tweeted a photo of Amini’s grief-stricken parents embracing each other after learning of their daughter’s death. Thousands of outraged Iranians saw that photo and flooded the streets in protest..

Niloofar Hamedi at a soccer stadium.
Niloofar Hamedi at a soccer stadium.

Six days later, police arrested Hamedi at home after searching her house and confiscating her belongings. She has been held in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin prison since September 22. Her lawyer, Mohammad Ali Kamfirouzi, tweeted that Hamedi has not been informed of the charges against her.


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