Sunday , 2 April 2023

Blinding as a Weapon: An Ophthalmological Review

Iranwire – Over many months of protests, Iranian demonstrators have been assaulted, arrested, and, in some cases, have lost their lives. Violent crowd control methods have been reported since protests began in September 2022, including the firing of metal pellets, an indiscriminate and brutal practice that does not just injure; it maims.

When individuals are shot in the head with metal pellets, sometimes dozens of times, eye wounds are inevitable. As this IranWire report shows, these painful injuries can cost a person their appearance, sight, and even their eyes. 

Blinding as a Weapon: An Ophthalmological Review

In Iran, reports of injured eyes among demonstrators and bystanders are not uncommon, but it’s hard to quantify exactly how often they occur. Fear of further consequences may prevent victims from seeking immediate medical care, and, in some cases, doctors may be hesitant to treat the wounds of protesters.

But the fact that eye patches have become a symbol of pride among demonstrators in Iran shows a clear link between the demonstrations and blinding as a weapon to suppress these protests.

This report is an attempt to document a small portion of these injuries. 

Blinding as a Weapon: An Ophthalmological Review

IranWire is aware of more than 50 serious eye injuries sustained by protestors and bystanders over the past five months. Around a dozen individuals have provided their medical records for this report. 

With the help of three independent ophthalmologists, we have reviewed these records and compiled a comprehensive medical report. Our cohort includes men and women, adults and children, demonstrators and bystanders. Mostly under 40, these patients will feel the effects of their injuries for decades. The youngest – a five-year-old shot in the head some twenty times with metal pellets – will never see from her left eye again.

The ophthalmologists’ invaluable efforts provide context to largely opaque and often sparse medical records, full of acronyms and technical terms unknown to most of us. As a result, the experts have given our report a fuller sense not just of how seriously each patient has been injured but of how these injuries will fundamentally affect their lives.  

Blinding as a Weapon: An Ophthalmological Review

Unable to examine the patients themselves, the ophthalmologists had to rely on often-limited medical records. The records themselves pose challenges because, for the doctor examining a patient with eye injuries, it can be challenging to safely diagnose injuries when the eye itself is surrounded by swollen tissue. The paucity of diagnostic data, in other words, may reflect the severity of the wound. And in cases where the eye itself has been punctured, it can be impossible to perform some examinations, as this risks pushing other material out of the eyeball.

Nonetheless, the ophthalmologists were clear in their assessments. For most of patients in the IranWire cohort, the long-term prognosis is poor. Some have already lost their vision, and others are likely to experience poor sight, pain, and further complications long into the future.

As well as assessing each case, the ophthalmologists provided valuable context for treating these types of injuries. Ophthalmology is primarily a discipline that addresses the needs of older patients: emergencies like those found among our cohort are rare and in Iran are likely straining available medical resources. One compared them to rare but severe accidents – like being shot in the eye with a paintball. Another likened them to injuries she saw treating survivors of inner-city gang warfare in the United States. Specialist expertise and surgical tools are required to treat these kinds of wounds. And even the best medical systems would be overwhelmed by a glut of cases.

Blinding as a Weapon: An Ophthalmological Review

IranWire is protecting the identities of some of the ophthalmologists who contributed to our report because they are concerned about speaking out publicly against the Iranian government.

We hope this report will raise awareness of the dangers facing protesters and bystanders in Iran and encourage others to share their stories. Violent, indiscriminate dispersal methods, such as firing pellets and targeting eyes, have consequences that last far longer than a single protest. They leave scars, cause chronic pain and rob young people of their vision. 

IranWire will continue to document these injuries as we learn of more cases from the public. This report is just the beginning. 

Click here to read or download this report.