Monday , 28 November 2022

IranWire Exclusive: Security Forces Shoot Unarmed Protester at Point-Blank Range

Iranwire – Behnam Layeghpour, 37, a tattoo artist from the northern city of Rasht, went on strike from his work in solidarity with the nationwide Mahsa Amini protests. He was shot dead by security forces a few days later.

Behnam Layeghpour, 37, a tattoo artist from the northern city of Rasht, went on strike from his work in solidarity with the nationwide Mahsa Amini protests

Behnam was in the countryside with his friends and girlfriend, on September 21, when security forces riding motorcycles started shooting at them.

He told his girlfriend to run, but the security forces followed him, caught him in a dead-end street at 9.30pm and fired three bullets at close range before waiting at the scene until he died.

Behnam’s family was later warned they would not receive the remains until they signed a death certificate stating he died of a heart attack or car accident. 

In an exclusive interview with IranWire, Hamida Moghadam and Bita Layeghpour, Behnam’s mother and sister, recalled the horrifying account of his death. 

“I am now at Behnam Jan’s house. I have come to see Behnam Jan,” his mother said, referring to Behnam’s grave in Rasht cemetery where she buried her son a few days ago, and using the “Jan” term of endearment..

Bita had talked with Behnam on the phone just three hours before his death. When she heard the news of the incident, she phoned him back but no one picked up, and at around 1030pm the same night she received a call telling her Behnam’s leg was broken and that she had to go to the hospital. 

“I was in touch with Behnam until 6 o’clock in the evening,” Bita told IranWire. “The last time I called, he said he was having lunch. My son was always working. He ran his own business,” she said. “He was very good. After he did not answer [her calls], they called me and said that Behnam had a broken leg and that he was in Porsina Hospital in Rasht. We left in a hurry.”

Behnam is one of the growing number of people who have been killed by Iran’s security forces over the past 20 days as crackdowns on the nationwide protests continued unabated. More than 130 people have so far lost their lives.

Behnam’s friends, his sister told IranWire, “said that the agent who shot Behnam got off the motorcycle, pointed his gun at Behnam’s dying body and did not allow anyone to approach him to help. [The police officer] stood and watched him die. Other officers started beating people with a baton in the dead-end street,”

Behnam’s beaten and terrified friends sought shelter in a neighbor’s house. He was bleeding but no one was willing to take him to the hospital – fearing security forces would arrest them. 

The friends finally managed to find a doctor in the neighborhood. He told Behnam’s friends that his arteries were torn due to being shot at close range. Another friend tried to take him to the hospital but Behnam died in the car. 

Bita was informed about Behnam’s death when her older brother’s wife phone her that evening.

“My older brother called me and said Behnam was shot. A few seconds later, even as I was in shock, my brother’s wife called and said that everything was over. Behnam was gone,” she said. 

Behnam’s sister rushed to the hospital: she described to IranWire an apocalyptic scene.

“When I arrived at Porsina Hospital in Rasht, it was an indescribable moment. My brother’s body was still warm when they took him to the morgue, which was full of dead bodies that night, and Behnam was laid on the floor,” she told IranWire. “I told myself all these people might be wrong. I did not believe he was killed. I asked them to show me where was my dear Behnam. The head of the morgue said that he has tattoos all over his body.”

“I understood that it was him. My mother did not know. My brother and I opened the zip cover of Behnam’s body bag. His nose and mouth had bled terribly. From below his cheek to his chest, his chest and stomach were full of bullets and metal pellets. We could not count how many bullets there were,” she added. 

While the shocked members of the family waited outside the morgue, security agents arrived, clashed with them, and tried to take Behnam’s body away.

“It was half past three in the morning. Two powerful men with beards came and said they had come to take Behnam,” Bita said. “I asked where? They said they were hospital officials.”

“I sat in front of the morgue gate and did not let them enter,” Bita said. “I told them, if you want to take Behnam, kill me too and then take both of us together.”

The men who came to pick up Behnam’s body left empty-handed. But the process of Behnam’s family receiving his remains took a long time. The family was first told that after the autoposy Behnam’s body would be handed over to Bagh Rizvan – Paradise Garden – cemetery in Rasht.

Behnam’s sister told IranWire that, in the meantime, officials kept issuing threats against the family and insisted that they hold a funeral in “absolute silence” and with a minimum of attendees. If the family refused, they said, the security forces would bury him in secret and only disclose the location after they had done so.

“We kept quiet just to get Behnam’s body, and only close people were in the procession,” Bita said. “Agents were all over the cemetery,” she added.

Behnam’s loved ones were only able to bury him after trying for four days to claim his remains. And on the third day after the burial, the family was told that they had to leave the cemetery before 1030am.

“He had bullets all over his body. God does not want anyone to see their loved one like this,” Bita told IranWire, adding that her family continued to receive pressure and threats from authorities.

But Bita said that Behnam’s family is not frightened by the security forces. “Behnam died for freedom. I will also cheer for it.”