Amid chants of “Death to the dictator,” an Iranian girl in black stands on an overturned garbage can, waving her headscarf as it is engulfed in flames.
Moments later, the video shows, she bends down to collect another scarf from a friend, which she sets on fire in front of the protesters.
Nika Shahkarami, a 16-year-old girl from Tehran. Hours after these scenes were recorded on September 20, in videos obtained and reviewed exclusively by CNN, Nika went missing. And more than a week later, her family learned that she had died.
Iranian officials said Nika’s body was found in a backyard on the morning of September 21. Her mother was not given access to identify her after 8 days. CCTV footage released by authorities just after midnight on September 20 showed the figure of a masked man on September 21 entering an uninhabited and still-under-construction building in Nika, Tehran, they said.
A Tehran prosecutor initially said she died after being thrown from the roof of a building and that her death had “nothing to do with the protests” that day, but although her death was clearly ruled a homicide, he did not say if there were any suspects. Under investigation. The state broadcaster reported that she had “fallen” but did not provide evidence to suggest it was an accident.
On Wednesday, after CNN asked the government to comment on the evidence in the investigation, an Iranian media report cited a Tehran prosecutor as saying Nika’s death was a suicide. Iranian officials have not yet responded to CNN’s repeated inquiries about Nika’s death
Authorities never explained why Nika would enter his own building, and Nika’s mother said she did not believe the masked man was Nika. Her mother said she believed Nika was killed by officers, but authorities never said she was in Nika’s custody at any time.
But dozens of videos and eyewitness accounts obtained exclusively by CNN indicate that Nika appears to have been chased and detained by Iranian security forces that night. A key eyewitness, Ladan, told CNN that Nika was taken into custody by “several large-bodied plainclothes security officers” at the protest and put into a car.
Moments earlier, this witness filmed a video showing Shahkarami ducking behind a white car and screaming “tekoon nakon, tekoon nakon” – meaning “don’t move, don’t move” – while stuck in Tehran traffic. driver before fleeing from the brief shelter she offered.
Seven people who knew Nika and spoke to CNN confirmed it was her. The same footage, shot at 8.37pm on September 20, shows riot police patrolling on motorcycles.
“I wanted to save her, but I couldn’t,” Ladon said. “There were about 20 or 30 Basijis on motorcycles on the sidewalk,” he said, using the local name for the paramilitary organization at the forefront of the state’s crackdown on protesters.
“Shahkarami was throwing stones at her. I got scared and I went after her and said, ‘Be careful my dear!’ Because there were many plain policemen on the roads looking for her in cars.
“Fifty meters ahead they got her,” Ladon added.
Ladon came to CNN after realizing that the same teenager he had filmed and talked to had been reported dead a few days later. CNN spoke to several witnesses at the September 20 Tehran protests with the help of the activist group 1500 Tasvir.
Other videos, including one of a scarf being burned, are evidence that Nika was at the forefront of the protests, before the crackdown began – brazenly chanting and throwing stones, according to several testimonies.
Witnesses said she was targeted by security forces, including members of Iran’s feared Basij militia, as she began descending on the area around Tehran University and Keshavarz Boulevard, where most protesters had gathered that evening.
“I remember how brave she was because she would go on top of the garbage bin and not come down. She even burned her headscarf,” said Najmeh, a protester who was with Nika at the demonstration.
CNN is using pseudonyms for all witnesses cited in this investigation due to the risk to their safety.
Students gathered near Laleh Park from 5 to 6 pm on September 20 to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died last month in state custody after being arrested by the country’s morality police. Allegedly, how she was dressed
The scene has become familiar in Tehran in recent weeks: young people, mostly women, chanting “death to the dictator”, burning helmets and throwing stones at security forces.
At one point, a garbage can was brought and blocked the road. Nika jumped up with a couple of others, the video footage showed.
“She burnt her headscarf and waved it. I told her not to wave it because you can burn yourself, hold it until it burns,” said Nima, who was protesting and watched the events unfold. “Then she took the headscarves of two friends who were with her and burnt them too.”
In other videos from that evening, geolocated and verified by CNN, Nika is shown throwing stones at anti-riot police forces. She carries a typical CAT rucksack and wears a black mask and hat on her head. Gunshots are heard.
Eyewitnesses said that the repression of the security forces intensified from 7 to 8 in the night. “They were firing tear gas and pellet bullets and were grabbing the protesters. We all ran away to face them,” said Reza, another witness.
As anti-riot police and Basij troops filled the streets, protesters began moving in all directions to escape the crackdown.
Dina, another witness who spent some time at the protests with Nika, told CNN that she saw Nika in front of a gas station not far from Tehran University, where a group of protesters had gathered after escaping tear gas fired by security forces. . Others, dressed in plain clothes, managed to capture them on video.
Reza added: “I saw with my own eyes the security forces beating women with batons, and they grabbed many of them and took them to police vans.”
Witnesses who spoke to CNN in this context of intense repression of the protests last saw Nika — and nine days passed before her family was officially notified of her whereabouts. Videos reviewed and geolocated by CNN prove she was hemmed in by security forces on three sides, as the last witness footage provided to CNN shows her alive.
“I think Nika got stuck that night when we were running away because she was so young,” Dina said.
While Iranian authorities insist Nika died on the grounds of that uninhabited building, her mother Nasreen believes her daughter “was in protest and was killed there” in an interview published on October 10 with the independent Iranian newspaper Etemad.
State-affiliated news agency Tasnim reported on October 4 that Iranian security forces arrested eight people in the building Nika entered, hours after witnesses saw her at the September 20 protest. Tehran’s prosecutor Ali Salehi said the judicial criminal case. State news agency IRNA said he has been released and offered his condolences to Nika’s family.
Mohammad Shahriari, head of criminal prosecution in Tehran province, initially said Nika’s injuries were “threw down,” citing an autopsy that revealed multiple fractures to the pelvis, head, upper and lower limbs, hands. Feet and hips, reports Tasnim.
He said the investigation showed that the incident had nothing to do with the protest. No bullet holes were found on the body.
CNN has repeatedly sought comment from Iranian authorities on whether Nika was arrested and other women were assaulted and put into police vehicles at the protest that night. CNN asked the Tehran prosecutor’s office about the status of the criminal investigation into Nika’s death. No comments were received prior to publication of this story.
On Wednesday, Mizan, an online news channel affiliated with Iran’s judiciary, published a report calling Nika’s death a suicide, citing a prosecutor from T
However, the death certificate, first seen by BBC Persian and reviewed by CNN, says Shahkarami died of multiple injuries caused by a hard object.
In an Etemad interview, Nasrin said she had spoken to Shahkarami several times on the phone on the day of her disappearance. Nasreen added that the background noise during the calls indicated her and other protesters fleeing from security forces.
Nika mentioned some of the places she had been – Enghelab Square, Keshawarz Boulevard and Valyasr Street – which, according to Nasrin, matched the videos geolocated by CNN.
Nasreen last spoke to her daughter before midnight, and after that, all her attempts to call Nika indicated that Nika’s phone was disconnected. Nika’s Instagram and Telegram accounts have been deleted, according to Nika’s aunt and several protesters who spoke to CNN.
Her family says they have visited police stations, jails and hospitals in search of her for days but to no avail. Finally, on September 30, Nika’s mother and brother were asked to identify Nika’s body, he told BBC Persian.
On October 6, in an interview with Radio Farda, Nasreen said that while searching for Nika in the days following her disappearance, a man gave her Nika’s national identity number and said, “The IRGC got her.” , he wanted to gently interrogate her.
It matches Shahkarami’s aunt Atash. told BBC Persian After she disappeared. “An unofficial source from the IRGC contacted me and said, this child was in our custody a week ago, and after we built the investigation and case file, 1 or 2 days ago (she) was transferred to Evin prison,” Atash said.
Atash and Nika’s uncle Mohsen were subsequently arrested by Iranian security forces and forced to make a false statement, according to BBC Persian, citing a source close to the family. After the BBC’s report, when reached by CNN, Atash asked not to be contacted again, citing safety concerns.
While the family is searching for answers, those who were with Nika that day are also reeling from her death.
“The situation was very scary, and everyone thought of escaping,” Dina said. “I cannot forgive myself for Nika’s death. She was a child. ”