Kurds are among the victims of the Iranian regime’s crackdown on dissent. Here are 3 of their stories
In the shadow of Iran’s violent crackdown on nationwide anti-regime protests, families and human rights organizations say the Islamic Republic’s authorities have also tortured to death at least seven Kurds.
Half a year has passed since Mahsa Jina Amini’s family says the 22-year-old Kurdish woman was murdered by regime authorities after she was arrested, allegedly for wearing her hijab improperly. Her death set off a chain of unprecedented protests in Iran.
Since then, security forces have been captured on video, subjecting Kurds to a particularly harsh crackdown in response to popular protests.
At least 121 Kurds, including 11 children, have been killed by security forces during anti-regime protests, according to the Europe-based Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN).
Human rights organizations say these killings are yet another example of the Islamic Republic’s long standing persecution of Iran’s Kurdish ethnic minority, which continues to be disproportionately affected by repression from authorities.
“Under the shadow of official executions the Islamic Republic continues its persecution of the Kurdish minority and has killed or tortured numerous citizens to death,” said Kurdish human rights advocate Soran Mansournia.
“It’s very painful that Western media and politicians don’t know the names and stories of these individuals,” he said.
The following profiles of people who were reportedly killed under torture, were compiled with the assistance of testimony from five sources close to the victims’ respective families and friends that CBC News is not naming due to safety concerns, as well as Soran Mansournia and KHRN.
Authorities in Iran did not respond to CBC’s multiple requests for comment on the circumstances around the deaths.
Long-time civil and political activist Nasrin Ghaderi, 39, was no stranger to encounters with authorities. She was arrested on several occasions, including in 2009 for bad-hejabi, or allegedly wearing her mandated hijab improperly.
Originally from Marivan, Kurdistan province, she decided to stay in Tehran after completing her bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Ghaderi joined the protests when they began in September 2022.
On Nov. 4, 2022, Ghaderi’s family became worried after not hearing from her for hours. Her brother went to her home, where he found Ghaderi’s lifeless body on the floor.
A source close to the family says security forces showed up to her home with the intention to abduct her, but that it was clear she had resisted.
“Her head was badly hit. I think they used batons to beat her many times, until she eventually was killed. She was bruised and blood had been wiped from her face,” the source said.
When ambulances arrived, so did authorities. Sources said security forces quickly took control and threatened her family.
Ghaderi’s father, who had arrived in Tehran at this point, said authorities told him that if he didn’t keep quiet about his daughter’s death, they would bury her body in an undisclosed location. The hijacking of bodies by regime forces has been reported in many other cases.
Sources close to the family say security forces confiscated cellphones belonging to Ghaderi’s father and brother, then “escorted” the family to Kurdistan province. They were following the ambulance carrying her body. During that eight-hour journey, sources told CBC News Ghaderi’s father was forced to appear on state television to say that his daughter had died of a pre-existing illness.
To this day, Ghaderi’s family says authorities have not returned the laptop and USB drives taken from her home.
A source close to Ghaderi says she was a woman who loved poetry and whose only wish was to live in a poetic and free world.
“She believed in a God who is the God of freedom. In one of her last poems before her death, she wrote: Sing in the name of the God who created freedom. Sing in the name of the creator: ‘Women, Life, Freedom.’ “
When protests first erupted last year, sources close to 23-year-old Shadman Ahmadi say he participated in most demonstrations in the city of Dehgolan in Kurdistan province.
Ahmadi had several run-ins with authorities over the years, and when he attended a protest on Dec. 8, 2022, they easily spotted him in the crowd, sources close to his family say.
According to witnesses, security forces encircled Ahmadi and tried to detain him. Despite being beaten and kicked by at least a dozen agents, they said he continued to resist and that authorities prevented the crowd from coming to his aid.
Witnesses said that only after Ahmadi was shocked with stun guns and violently beaten were the agents able to drag him to the police station.
A source stationed inside the prison where Ahmadi was taken told his family he was tortured to death after he was thrown in a cell.
Mansournia says authorities in Dehgolan held a particular kind of grudge for Ahmadi.
“Shadman was a tough guy with a big presence,” he said. “He had many physical confrontations with authorities over the years in street protests where they weren’t able to control him. So when they caught him, they were able to take their revenge.”
When news of Ahmadi’s detention made the rounds, the prison source said agents would take turns kicking and beating him with batons. Four hours after he was first taken by authorities, the family was told that he had died.
The Chief Justice of Dehgolan told the family that Ahmadi took his own life and that he would be buried by judicial agents — which the family resisted.
His parents and close friends rushed to the morgue to prepare Ahmadi’s body for burial. That’s when they saw the signs of torture: his back was completely blackened with bruises, his wrist had been broken and his skull also appeared to be cracked.
His friends took a tremendous risk and filmed Ahmadi’s body to expose what had happened to him. In graphic videos that have since been posted to social media, his friends can be heard weeping over Ahmadi’s battered body — and at times voicing their anger and disdain toward regime security forces.
Ahmadi was so beloved that large crowds gathered for his funeral and two commemorations following his burial.
Mohammad Haji Rasulpour
Mohammad Haji Rasulpour, 57, was a former political prisoner who was well-known for his advocacy for women’s rights in the city of Bukan.
“Everyone says he was always in the first row at demonstrations — especially protests for women’s rights,” Mansournia said. “He was tortured and imprisoned many times, but it never stopped him from continuing to stand up for what’s right.”
Rasulpour was arrested in the Kurdish city of Bukan on Oct. 1, 2022, and released on bail 16 days later. He was arrested again in late November, right in front of his shop.
Twenty days passed before his family was told by authorities that Rasulpour could be released on bail of about five billion Iranian rial (then valued at $22,000 Cdn.)
When his family arrived at the prison, Rasulpour was handed over in a wheelchair. To their shock and horror, they realized he was unconscious and had signs of torture on his body.
They rushed him to hospital where he was admitted to the intensive care unit. Rasulpour died five days later on Dec. 18, 2022.
The next day, a large crowd gathered at his burial site, chanting anti-regime slogans including the Kurdish chant of “Jan, Jiyan, Azadi” (Woman, Life Freedom), that had become the slogan of the uprising.
Aim to end Kurdish persecution
Mansournia and human rights advocates say putting a spotlight on these cases is of paramount importance when it comes to ending the regime’s continued persecution and killing of Kurdish people.
“The lack of attention by Western media on Iran’s marginalized provinces like Kurdistan or Sistan-Baluchestan allows the regime to often kill Kurds under torture with complete impunity,” said KHNR volunteer Fatemeh Karimi.
“The regime typically accuses Kurds of being members of political parties and therefore threats to national security. So, killing Kurdish detainees under torture has often been of little cost to the government,” she said.
Documenting these crimes is also personal to Mansournia, whose own brother, Borhan Mansournia, was shot by regime forces in the Kurdish-majority city of Kermanshah (Kirmaşan in Kurdish) during the November 2019 anti-regime uprising.
Mansournia and other Iranians whose family members were victims of crimes committed by the Islamic Republic have founded the Revolutionary Council of Dadkhahan Iran. Their goal is to eventually bring regime officials to justice.
Since Amini’s death on Sept. 16, 2022, at least 530 protesters, including 71 children, have so far been killed, human rights group HRANA reports.
Protests continue in pockets of the country — most prominently in the southeast province of Sistan and Baluchestan.
Iranian authorities have since admitted that the total number of people detained in connection with the protests is above 22,000.