This is a story of sacrilege and violence. Of how a regime filled with, and supported by, people of no moral standing and conscience, can trample on the most innocent of lives without batting an eyelash. People who have read my blog here will know that the one thing I have never written about is politics. But the recent events in Iran have forced their way into every corner of my life with such tenacity that there is no more room for keeping these matters separate. I am not one for cursing, but even if I were, no swear word would sufficiently paint a picture of the violent thugs that are at the core of this story. So rest assured, you will not find vile words, only vile content. So, be warned that this post will contain graphic descriptions of a violent incident.
On the eve of September 20th, a chilly autumn day, Nika decided to take part in the — as of that moment, peaceful — protests in the capital city of Tehran. These were held to protest the violence aimed at the women of her country and the recent death of her compatriot, Mahsa Amini. Mahsa was a girl not much older than Nika at the time who had been brutalized to death by the Iranian “Morality Police” — an arm of the police tasked with enforcing the Islamic Republic’s dress code and social expectations by any means necessary — a few days before this incident.
Nika went to a gathering in Keshavarz Boulevard (in central Tehran) at around 5pm, armed with a bottle of water and a towel as a primitive method of protection against tear gas, where she joined other like-minded protestors. The demonstrators started chanting against the violence and misogyny long endured by their fellow citizens. Their demands were clear in the motto of the movement: women, life, and liberty. It is not known what else the demonstration entailed: the bloodied arms of the Iranian government have been at large ever since, trying to cast shadows on what was the beginning of the darkest week of the regime’s forty-odd year history of oppression yet. Nika was fearless among the demonstrators, but the group was soon broken up by the security forces. She messaged one of her friends from her phone that she was being chased down.
This all happened about a week before her seventeenth birthday. A dear child of a family from a province already under the heavy hand of the government ever since the 1978 revolution, Nika Shakarami was already looking ahead for a future where she would not have to abide by the say-so of men who had never known a world in which they did not have absolute power. She was living with her aunt, Atash Shakarami, a painter and lover of arts. She used to fill her afternoons with serving at a cafe, engaging in conversation with the youth of the capital, and expressing her own interests in art.
Little is known of her short personal life before the harrowing events that befell her on that godforsaken evening, but the little that we have learned since show us a delicate teenage girl, shy and bold, sweet and sour, and made of sugar and spice: she was a teenager after all, decidedly marching towards adulthood with a keen sight and a pure heart, one moment singing merrily, and the next shyly looking at her friends.
Sometime in the aftermath of the protests, Nika was abducted by the savage security forces. We do not know whether or not this was the act of forces with ties to the IRGC or the police, and the blanket of silence that has been covering the incident makes the ties irrelevant: all are culpable, all are at fault. Her family and friends learned nothing of all that she had to endure before the thread of her existence was cut short. It was ten days later that her family was notified that her body was discovered while going through the dead protestors at a detention center in Kahrizak. She was barely recognizable: her face was smashed in, her nose broken off, her cheeks swollen, her jaw mangled. Her skull had sustained several blow injuries from a sharp, hard object. Her family was allowed only a few seconds to identify her and were not allowed to see her body. They were warned to not bring this to the media. Instead, it was claimed that she had fallen from a height. The authorities presented the family with a picture taken of her lifeless form lying on a sidewalk to support this claim.
Her phone was never returned to her family, but her social media accounts were deleted — a common action taken by the security forces after forcibly taking a protester’s phone. One can only conclude that she was forced to give up access to her phone while in captivity and under torture. She had her birth certificate on her person when she was murdered, leaving no doubt that she could never have been mistaken for anything but a minor.
As is the custom in Iran, her family arranged for her body to be washed and cleansed before her burial, which would have coincided with her seventeenth birthday. They noticed a long line of stitches running from her breast to her abdomen. This was the first time they were allowed to see their lost child for more than a few seconds, and to see more than just her broken face. They were told that this was done for an autopsy, which was at odds with the earlier — and obviously false — claim that she had sustained injuries from a fall.
To cover up, the regime proceeded to spin a conspiracy involving eight working men, a half-finished building, and a broken phone. This is not the first time that the Islamic Republic has sought to cover up a horrific act by its minions. One has to only search the Internet for a few minutes to come across many such incidents. Even if we were to believe the half-baked conspiracy theory, it begs the question that why would a teenage girl running away from anti-protest security forces feel so threatened that she would choose to enter a half-finished building with eight working men inside and find that a refuge from whatever she was fleeing from. One shudders to think of the horrors she must have suffered, and what had befallen her poor, delicate body, so filled with passion and joy, that to cover up, eight men had to be brought in as the culprits.
As Nika’s mourning family were about to set out to bury their child in a cemetery in their ancestral city of Khorramabad, the security forces threatened them and tried to pressure them into silence. Her aunt, Atash, defied these orders and posted on Twitter to invite her mourning friends and the people of Iran to take part in her last birthday. She was subsequently abducted and transferred to an unknown location by (presumably) the IRGC enforcers. Her family was threatened again that if they followed through with the public ceremony, Atash would be summarily executed. Despite reaching an agreement, the security forces stole the body of the murdered teen, and instead buried her in a cemetery in Veysian, some forty kilometers from Khoramabad.
Nika’s aunt, as of the writing of this post, is still missing. If you have not still pieced the story together from the fragments, let me engage your imagination and present you with a nightmare. Even though I feel inexplicably uncouth in detailing the last horrific days of this lost soul, I can’t help but try to vocalize this pain, shared by the people of Iran.
She was a young girl, a teenager, barely a woman. She had aspirations to be an artist. She was strong and independent, supporting herself and living with her aunt in a city far from her parents. She was tender and innocent. She was shy and full of life. She was passionate. She loved. She dreamed.
She saw how a woman barely a few years older than herself was murdered by the government’s “morality police” in cold blood. She saw her fellow citizens rise up, and not wanting that to be her future, she took this civil responsibility to her heart. She read up online on what was going on, on ways to protect herself. She armed herself with knowledge, courage, and a bottle of water, and then went to join the demonstrators.
Under the heavy boots of the anti-protest forces, the protestors broke apart. It was dark and she was alone.
She was chased by men in bulky armor and face shields. Her only protection was her shirt and her cloth mask. She was sixteen. Was she naive? Was she too innocent to know any better? She took out her phone and messaged her friend, letting them know that she was being chased, expressing her fear of the monstrous men that had beaten people to pulp right in front of her innocent eyes.
Her small feet eventually proved to not be long enough to evade her captors. They caught up with her and stole her away. She had her birth certificate with her, so she was prepared to let them know that she was a minor. Did she get to let them know? Would they have cared? Or did they start to violate her young body before she had the chance to? They did to her over many hours and days what they would later need to arrest eight workers to cover up. Eight grown men. How many were her actual captors? They violated her, time and again. They tortured her. They broke her, body and spirit, so that she told them all she knew: little to nothing, little was there that the violent brutes did not know. They went over her phone. The thugs employed by the regime have been known to torture, rape, and assault their victims. Evidence shows that Nika was no exception. These base creatures wearing human skin are not above using what is on the victim’s phone to further torment them. When they were done, they wiped her phone.
What a dark week that must have been for Nika, if she indeed survived to see more than a few hours of it. One is torn between wishing for her to have had a quick release, and outrage that such a wish would cross one’s mind.
They beat her repeatedly, raped her repeatedly, and beat her again. What threat could a delicate teenager like Nika have posed that would have warranted such brutality? What sick, twisted minds must have been riding those brutes to have directed them to such actions?
She was brutalized. She was hit in the abdomen, the chest, the neck, the face. She was bound and gagged. She was murdered. Once her captors were done with her broken body, they threw her to the side, leaving the cleanup to other people.
This is not a horror story. This is the reality of what is going on on the streets of Iran, in all cities, all towns, at every corner.
The horror might have ended for Nika, but this was just the beginning for her family. What justice can they demand? What justice is there to give? What can one bestow upon them to equate the little blossom that was taken from their lives, the budding flower that was their joy?
Even to this date, they are being pressured to present false testimony, to further twist the knife in their own guts, and to corroborate the unbelievable story concocted by the twisted, and sickly regime.
Writing these words has been like biting and swallowing nails for me. I cannot begin to imagine what her family is going through right now. I stand with you. I stand up for you. You will never receive justice, for there is no justice for what has been done to your daughter. All we can do now is to stand with you in recognition of your tremendous loss. I feel so inadequate in my expression, and I am sure we, the people of Iran, the people of the world, all feel that way. We are one with your daughter’s spirit, who was murdered because she dared dream, and whose body was too damning of an evidence for the regime to leave alone. For your child, whose existence was a condemnation of death, and whose memory holds us accountable. We are one in your sorrow.
We can remember her face, her free spirited laughter, her shy smile, her passion for life. We can spread word of her harrowing passing. We can make sure that we remember and retell her story. We can make sure that we hold her murderers accountable. We can remember your sorrow, and we can be one with you in enduring it. So please, join me in sharing her story, taking word of her murder to the world.
References and Further Reading