RFL/RE – Two Iranian protesters known as “eye victims” have been arrested in what rights activists say is a campaign by authorities to silence those who have been shot in the face by security agents during months of unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country’s hijab law.
Human rights activists announced on May 23 that Amir Valayati and Heresh Naqshbandi, two protesters who each lost an eye to government forces’ pellet guns during the recent nationwide protests, had been arrested.
Among the thousands arrested since the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an unknown number of protesters have been blinded by security forces after being shot in the face. The New York TImes has estimated some 500 young Iranians were were treated in Tehran hospitals after suffering such injuries in the first three months of the protests alone.
Iranwire, which documents human rights abuses in Iran, says it has confirmed some 580 cases of blinding in Tehran and the province of Kurdistan alone, “but the actual numbers across the country are much higher.”
The victims say they were purposely singled out before being wounded, with some claiming security forces smiled before shooting them in the face.SEE ALSO:’Cycle Of Violence’: Prominent Iranian Photojournalist Protests Death Penalty
The government and senior security officials have rejected the accusations.
Reports indicate that Valayati was taken into custody on May 18 following a raid on his home by government forces.
Valayati, a hairdresser, lost an eye when he was shot with a pellet gun by security forces during the second week of the nationwide protests. Valayati was demonstrating in the Narmak district of Tehran with friends at the time of the incident.
Despite the injury, Valayati has continued to post protest-related content on his Instagram account in recent months. He was arrested again while undergoing treatment for his injury, having already had two operations with another scheduled in the following months.
The opposition activist collective 1500tasvir reported the arrest of theater actor and director Naqshbandi, who lost an eye in a similar way during the protests. He was taken into custody last week, and 1500tasvir said his family has yet to be given any information regarding his condition and whereabouts.
The pressure campaign, activists said, is being extended to the families of the “eye victims” as well.
The Instagram account Eyes for Freedom, which follows stories of eye injury victims, reported last week that the brother of Parsa Ghobadi, a protester who lost both his eyes during the unrest, had been arrested.
Vahid Abbasi Peyani, who lost an eye during protests in the city of Izeh last November, has also been incarcerated for months at Sheiban prison in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz.
Several similar cases are being reported in other cities as well.
Anger over Amini’s death in police custody in September 2022 prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women’s rights. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
Her death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests in cities across the country. The authorities have responded to the unrest with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.