An Iranian girl in black stands atop an overturned trash can, waving her scarf as it burns in flames, amid chants of “death to the dictator.”
Moments later, the video shows, he bends down to collect another scarf from a friend and sets it on fire in front of the protesters.
This girl was Nika Shahkarmi, 16 years old, from Tehran. Hours after the scenes were recorded on September 20, in videos obtained and verified exclusively by CNN, Nika disappeared. And more than a week later, his family found out he was dead.
Iranian authorities claimed that Nika’s body was found behind a yard on the morning of September 21. His mother was not allowed to identify him until 8 days later. CCTV footage released by authorities just after midnight, timestamped as September 20 turned into September 21, shows a masked man they say is Nika entering a vacant building under construction in Tehran.
A Tehran prosecutor initially said he died after being thrown from the building’s roof and that his death had “nothing to do with the protests” that day, but despite apparently ruling his death a homicide, he did not say if there were any suspects. or not under investigation. State broadcasters reported that he had “collapsed”, but provided no evidence to support the claim that it was an accident.
On Wednesday, after CNN asked the government to comment on the investigation’s evidence, an Iranian media outlet quoted a Tehran prosecutor as saying that Nika’s death was a suicide. Iranian authorities have not yet responded to CNN’s repeated requests about Nika’s death
Authorities never explained why Nika entered the building alone, and Nika’s mother said she did not believe the masked person was Nika. Her mother has said she believes Nika was killed by authorities, but authorities have never said if Nika was ever in their custody.
But dozens of videos and eyewitness accounts obtained exclusively by CNN show that Nika appears to have been chased and detained by Iranian security forces that night. A key eyewitness, Ladan, told CNN that he saw Nika being grabbed at the protest by “several burly plainclothes security officers” and thrown into a car.
Moments earlier, while stuck in Tehran traffic, the witness filmed a video that appears to show Shahkarmi ducking behind a white car, yelling “don’t move, don’t move,” meaning “don’t move, Don’t move,” he says. The driver gave him a brief shelter before fleeing.
Seven people who knew Nika who spoke to CNN confirmed it was her. The same video, which was filmed at 20:37 on September 29, shows riot police patrolling the area on motorcycles.
“I wanted to save him, but I couldn’t,” Ladan said. “There were about 20 or 30 Basij on motorcycles on the sidewalk,” he said, using the local name of the paramilitary organization that has been at the forefront of the state’s crackdown on protesters.
Shahkarmi was throwing stones at them. I was scared and even passed by him and said, “Be careful, my dear!” Because there were some plainclothes policemen on the streets looking for him from the cars.
Ladan added: “Fifty meters ahead they caught him.”
Laden came to CNN after realizing that the teenager he had filmed and spoken to was the same person whose death was reported days later. CNN spoke exclusively with several witnesses who were present at the demonstration on 29th of Shahrivar in Tehran with the help of the activist group 1500 Tsvir.
Other videos, including a burning scarf, are evidence that Nika was at the forefront of the protests earlier in the night, before the crackdown began – fearlessly chanting and throwing stones, according to several testimonies.
According to witnesses, this made him a target for security forces, including members of Iran’s Basij militia, as they began to descend on the area around Tehran University and Keshavarz Boulevard, where most of the protesters were that evening. They gathered.
I remember how brave he was because he climbed on top of the trash can and didn’t come down. Najmeh, one of the protesters who was with Nika in the demonstration, says.
CNN is using pseudonyms for all witnesses quoted in this investigation because of the risk to their safety.
Students had gathered around Laleh Park around 17:00 to 18:00 on 29th Shahrivar to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman who died in state custody after being arrested by the country’s morality police last month. Apparently for the way he dresses.
It was a scene that became familiar in Tehran in recent weeks: young people, mostly women, shouted slogans of death to the dictator, burned scarves and threw stones at the security forces.
At one point a trash can was brought in and overturned to block the road. Video footage showed that Nika jumped from the top along with several others.
He burned his scarf and shook it. “I told him don’t move because you can burn yourself, just hold it until it burns.” Then he took the scarf of two friends who were with him and burned them too.
In other videos from that evening, which have been geo-located and verified by CNN, Nika is shown throwing rocks at riot police. He carries a distinctive cat backpack and wears a black mask and hat. Sounds like gunshots are heard.
Witnesses said that from 7 to 8 p.m., the crackdown by the security forces intensified. “They fired tear gas and bullets and arrested the protesters. Reza, another witness, said: “Almost all of us used to face them and run away.”
As riot police and mobilization forces filled the streets, protesters began to move in all directions to escape the crackdown.
Another witness, Dina, who spent part of the demonstration next to Nika, told CNN that she saw Nika in front of a gas station near Tehran University, where a group of protesters had gathered after escaping tear gas by security forces. has seen . Others managed to capture on video what appeared to be people being detained by plainclothes officers.
Reza added: I saw with my own eyes that the security forces hit the women with batons and took many of them and took them to the police vans.
It is in the context of a heavy crackdown on protests that Nika was last seen by witnesses who spoke to CNN – and nine days passed before her family was officially informed of her whereabouts. Videos verified and located by CNN show that the girl was surrounded on three sides by security forces in the latest witness footage provided to CNN showing her alive.
“I think Nika got stuck that night when we were running away. Dina said because she was too young.
While Iranian officials insist that Nika died in the compound of that vacant building, her mother, Nasreen, told Etemad, an independent Iranian newspaper, in an interview published on October 10 that she believed her daughter “was at the demonstration and was killed there. Is”.
The state-run Tasnim news agency reported on October 4 that Iranian security forces arrested eight people who were construction workers that Nika allegedly entered hours after he was seen at the September 20 demonstration. Irena said that it was set up and offered her condolences to Nika’s family.
Mohammad Shahriari, head of the Criminal Prosecutor’s Office of Tehran province, first pointed to the autopsy, which indicated multiple fractures in the pelvis, head, upper and lower limbs, hands, and said: “Nika’s injuries are consistent with being thrown down.” According to Tasnim, legs and hips.
He added: “Investigations showed that this incident had nothing to do with the protests.” “No bullet holes were found on the body.”
CNN has repeatedly asked Iranian officials for comment on whether Nika was arrested at the protest that night and whether other women were assaulted and put into police cars. CNN also asked the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office about the status of the criminal investigation into Nika’s death. No response was received prior to publication.
On Wednesday, Meezan news agency affiliated with Iran’s judiciary announced Nika’s death as a suicide by publishing a report citing the prosecutor’s office.
However, the death certificate, first seen by BBC Persian and confirmed by CNN, shows that Shahkarmi died of multiple blunt force injuries.
Nasreen said in the interview of “Etemad” that on the day of Shahkarmi’s disappearance, she talked to him on the phone many times. Nasreen added that the background noise during the calls indicated that he and other protesters were running away from the security forces. particle for direct object
According to Nasreen, Nika pointed out several places he had been to – El-Englab Square, Keshavarz Boulevard and Valiasr Street – which corresponded to CNN’s geographic videos.
Nasreen spoke to her daughter for the last time before midnight, after which all her attempts to contact Nika revealed that Nika’s phone was disconnected. According to Nika’s aunt and several protesters who spoke to CNN, Nika’s Instagram and Telegram accounts were deleted.
For days, his family says they went to police stations, jails and hospitals looking for any trace of him, but to no avail. He told BBC Farsi that finally on September 30, Nika’s mother and brother were asked to identify Nika’s body. particle for direct object
On October 6, in an interview with Radio Farda, Nasreen claimed that in the days after Nika’s disappearance, while she and other family members were looking for Nika, someone gave her Nika’s national number and told her, “Her army took the They wanted to interrogate him slowly.”
which corresponds to Shahkarmi Atash’s aunt He told BBC Farsi Immediately after his disappearance, an unofficial source from the IRGC contacted me and said that this child was in our custody a week ago, and after the interrogation and filing of the case, he was transferred 1 or 2 days ago. Atash said Evin prison.
According to BBC Farsi, citing a source close to the family, Atash and Nika’s uncle, Mohsen, were subsequently arrested by Iranian security forces and forced to give false statements. After the BBC report, when reached by CNN, Atash asked not to be contacted due to safety concerns.
While the family searches for answers, the people who were with Nika that day are still reeling from her death.
“The situation was very scary and everyone thought of running away,” Dina said. I can’t forgive myself for Nika’s death. He was a child.”