Teen’s mother disputes Iran, says she died of blows to head

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The mother of a 16-year-old Iranian girl on Friday disputed official claims that her daughter had fallen from a high-rise building, saying the teen was killed by blows to the head as part of the crackdown on anti-hijab protests ravaging the country.

Nasreen Shakarami also said authorities kept her daughter Nika’s death a secret for nine days and then snatched the body from a morgue to bury her in a remote area, against the family’s wishes. The grieving mother spoke in a video message on Thursday with Radio Farda, the Persian-language arm of the US-funded station Radio Farda.

Nika Shakarami has become the latest icon of the protests, seen as the biggest threat to Iran’s ruling elites in years. Attempts by authorities in recent days to portray the teen’s death as an accident may indicate concerns that the incident could fuel anger against the government.

The protests, which are entering their fourth week on Saturday, were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the vice squad. They had arrested Amini for alleged violations of the country’s strict Islamic dress code.

Young women have often led the protests, tearing themselves off and waving their headscarves defiantly as they called for the overthrow of the government.

The protests quickly spread to communities across Iran and faced government crackdowns, including beatings, arrests and killings of protesters, as well as internet outages.

Human rights groups estimate that dozens of protesters have been killed in the past three weeks. On Thursday, the London-based group Amnesty International released its findings on what appears to be the deadliest incident to date – in the city of Zahedan on September 30.

According to the report, Iranian security forces killed at least 66 people, including children, and injured hundreds after firing live ammunition at protesters, bystanders and worshipers that day. Iranian authorities claimed that unnamed separatists were involved in the Zahedan violence. Since then, more than a dozen people have been killed in the area, the report said.

Meanwhile, Nika Shakarami’s mother resisted attempts by officials to portray her daughter’s death as an accident.

In her video message, she said the forensic report revealed that Nika had died from repeated blows to the head.

Nika’s body was intact, but some of her teeth, bones in her face and in the back of her skull were broken, she said. “The damage was to her head,” she said. “Her body was intact, arms and legs.”

Earlier this week, Iran’s chief of police, General Hossein Ashtari, claimed that the teenager had gone into a building “and fell from the top floor during a meeting.” He said that “the fall from that height led to her death.”

Nasreen Shakarami said her daughter left her home in Tehran on the afternoon of September 19 to join anti-hijab protests. She said she had phone calls with Nika several times over the next few hours, begging her to come home. They last spoke before midnight. “Then Nika’s cellphone was turned off after she and her friends called out the names of troops while they were on the run,” she said.

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The next morning, the family searched for Nika in police stations and prisons, but had heard nothing about her whereabouts for nine days. Authorities finally handed over the body on the 10th day and the family went to the city of Khoramabad to be buried, she said. Authorities repeatedly demanded to take possession of the body, which had meanwhile been stored in the Khoramabad morgue.

On the day of the scheduled funeral, the family learned that the body had been snatched from the morgue and taken to a remote village for burial, under heavy security, Nasreen Shakarami said.

Since the confirmation of her death, Nika, alongside Amini, has emerged as another icon of the protests. A photo of Nika, dressed in a black T-shirt and sporting a stylish two-tone bob haircut and eyeliner, has been widely circulated on social media.

Authorities arrested Nasreen Shakarami’s brother and sister. The sister, Atash, later said on Iranian TV that her niece had fallen from a tall building.

Nika’s mother said she thinks her siblings have been pressured to repeat the official version.

Iran has a long history of broadcasting forced confessions.

Also on Friday, the official IRNA news agency quoted the coroner’s office as saying that investigations showed that Mahsa Amini died of cerebral hypoxia – which reduces oxygen supply to the brain. It said she suffered from multiple organ failure, but “her death was not led by blunt trauma to the head, organs and vital parts of the body.”

It said Amini suffered from cardiac arrhythmias, hypotension and loss of consciousness before being taken to a hospital. It said she suffered from a chronic illness that led to surgery for a brain tumor when she was 8, adding that she was taking medications including hydrocortisones and levothyroxine.

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