Nika Shakarami

Mother Of Dead Teen Protester Accuses Iranian Authorities Of ‘Lying’ About Her Death In Attempt To ‘Exempt Themselves’

October 9, 2022
7 mins read

Nika Shakarami headed to Tehran’s central Keshavarz Boulevard on September 20 to join anti-government protests that broke out across the country after a young woman arrested for not wearing a mandatory headscarf died in police custody.

After Nika posted an Instagram story showing her burning her own headscarf, she was never seen alive again.

Now — like the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini whose death on September 16 sparked the ongoing wave of demonstrations — the unclear circumstances of the 16-year-old Nika’s death and suggestions of a cover-up by authorities have made her yet another tragic face of protest in Iran.

In a video message sent exclusively to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda on October 6, Nika’s mother, Nasrin Shakarami, accused the Iranian authorities of “lying” about the circumstances surrounding her daughter’s death in an attempt to “exempt themselves.”

She also said the authorities “stole” her daughter’s corpse so they could bury it in secret and have pressured the family to echo the official and inconsistent account of an apparent killing.

Nasrin Shakarami said that she last spoke to Nika on the evening of September 20, when she called multiple times while her daughter took part in the demonstrations on Keshavarz Boulevard.

“I was in touch with her and asked her to return home. She answered a few times, it was noisy on the other side and the calls kept breaking up,” Nasrin Shakarami said.

“At around 11:30 p.m., I had the last phone call with Nika. I could hear her friends mentioning the security forces and saying that they were escaping from them. Her phone hung up and was then turned off, and it has remained off ever since.”

Nika Shakarami
Nika Shakarami

Thinking that Nika must have been arrested, the family went to the police the next day to determine her whereabouts. “Everyone was telling us that they had no records of her, except for one person [official] who kept telling us that she was alright,” Nasrin Shakarami said.

The official, she said, had sought to assuage her fears by telling her that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had arrested Nika but was not disclosing information about protesters in detention because there were so many of them.

“‘The IRGC wants to interrogate Nika and she is being kept in a good place. I am confident about what I am telling you,'” Nasrin Shakarami recalled the officer telling her.

Finally, after nine days and numerous visits to the authorities, police showed the family pictures of Nika’s dead body, setting off a chain of events that led the authorities to bury her in secret against the family’s wishes, and the arrests of family members to keep them quiet.

Inconsistent Accounts

Determining the truth about the circumstances of Nika’s death has proved impossible for the family, which Nasrin Shakarami said had faced “enormous pressure” for questioning the official line and publicly discussing the case.

There many inconsistencies in the accounts given by the authorities, which amid allegations that she was killed by security forces has maintained that there was no connection between Nika’s death and her participation in the protests that night.

The protests broke out in the capital and other cities days after Amini’s death after her arrest on September 13 for violating Iran’s hijab law. More than 150 people, mostly young people including teenagers, have been killed during the protests that have openly called for the end of the mandatory hijab and the overthrow of the country’s clerical regime.

Mohammad Shahriari, the head of the criminal prosecutor’s office in Tehran Province, said prior to Nika’s secret burial that forensic evidence and video footage proved she was killed on September 21 and that her death had nothing to do with the protests in Tehran.

“During the autopsy and examination of the body, multiple fractures were observed in the pelvis, head, upper and lower limbs, hands and feet, indicating that the person was thrown from a height,” Shahriari said in comments published by the state-run IRNA news agency.

Addressing “rumors” that she had been shot while protesting, Shahriari said no bullet wounds were found on the body, which he said was discovered on early on September 21 by residents of a neighboring building who had heard a sound at 3 a.m., but who had not seen anyone fall.

Shahriari also said that CCTV footage showed Nika entering the partially constructed building she was allegedly “thrown” from by pushing open an unlocked door, and that her backpack had been discovered by investigators on the roof of the four-story structure.

The authorities have cast Nika’s death as either a brutal crime or a suicide, and according to the semiofficial Tasnim news agency, eight construction workers who were allegedly working at the site have been arrested in connection with a criminal investigation.

In contradiction to Shahriari’s account, Nasrin Shakarami says that the family was told by police that the pictures of Nika’s dead body were taken on September 20, the night of the protests, and that they were told upon visiting the morgue on September 31 that her body was delivered there on September 21.

A copy of the findings issued on October 2 by the Behesht-e Zahra Organization, the entity responsible for determining the cause of death prior to Nika’s burial, states the date of Nika’s death as September 21, but says she “died due to multiple injuries caused by the impact of a hard object.”

Nasrin Shakarami told Radio Farda that the family saw no evidence of the injuries on Nika’s body as described by prosecutor Shahriari, and that the “deadly trauma was [only] to her head.”

“I saw my daughter’s corpse myself,” she said. “Her body was unhurt. There was only the autopsy suture visible on her chest. Her face and her cheeks were broken. Her teeth were crushed, and she had a big cavity in the back of her skull.”

While Nasrin Shakarami said that police told her that the delay in identifying the body and the “chaos and unrest” caused the postponement in informing the family about Nika’s death, she says “this cannot be true, as she had her ID and her phone with her, and all her belongings have been found [and delivered to the family] except for these two items.”

Contentious Funeral Plans, Secret Burial

Nika’s family sought to have her buried in her hometown of Khorramabad, in Iran’s western Lorestan Province, where they purchased a plot at a local cemetery and planned to hold a funeral.

But those plans became a point of contention after they were given the body on October 1, Nika’s mother said.

“They gave us the body…and we set off for Khorramabad for Nika’s burial,” she said. “They made a lot of trouble for us on the way.”

The authorities, adamant that the body should not be buried in Khorramabad out of apparent concerns that it could attract demonstrators, warned the family not to hold a public ceremony but Nika’s mother refused.

On the day of the planned burial — what would have been Nika’s 17th birthday on October 3 — “we found out that they had stolen Nika’s body without our consent and that they had buried Nika in a remote village under heavy security,” Nasrin Shakarami said.

Nika was buried secretly on October 3 in the village of Veysian, dozens of kilometers from Khorramabad, leaving her distraught mother no option but to honor her life in her hometown. The makeshift ceremony drew crowds of mourners, and she was reportedly described as a “martyr” by family members.

Pressure On Family Members

At least two members of Nika’s family who publicly discussed her disappearance, death, and controversial burial were subsequently arrested, after which they emerged on state TV on October 5 suddenly parroting the official line that Nika was thrown from a building and that her death had nothing to do with the authorities’ crackdown on protesters.

One of those who appeared on state television — Nika’s aunt, Atash Shakarami — had actively commented on her niece’s disappearance on social media until October 2, when one of her last posts indicated that Nika would be buried in Khorramabad the next day.

Atash Shakarami was reportedly arrested by security forces in Khorramabad on October 4 and taken to an unknown location, leading to criticism from human rights groups.

Atash Shakharami is shown on Iranian state television on October 5 reviewing CCTV coverage purporting to show her niece, Nika, entering the building that Iranian officials say she was thrown from.
Atash Shakharami is shown on Iranian state television on October 5 reviewing CCTV coverage purporting to show her niece, Nika, entering the building that Iranian officials say she was thrown from.

Prior to her arrest, Atash Shakarami said that Nika had posted a video on her since-deleted Instagram account that showed her burning her headscarf during the September 20 protests.

The aunt also said during an interview with BBC Persian that members of the IRGC had told the family that Nika had been held for five days before being handed over to prison authorities. Reports have said Nika was held at Kahrizak prison outside Tehran, but the authorities have not confirmed this.

Atash Shakarami, a painter in Tehran, also expressed skepticism about the purported site of Nika’s death, the courtyard in the capital’s Elkhebal district where the authorities say her body was found after it was “thrown” from an adjacent building.

In her appearance on state TV on October 5, Atash Shakharami was shown watching CCTV footage the authorities say shows Nika entering the building from which she was purportedly thrown.

When asked who the veiled person in the footage is, the aunt identifies her as “Nika” and later says that her body was found outside the building in Tehran from which the authorities say she was thrown.

“I have heard that they have recorded coerced confessions from my sister,” Nika’s mother, Nasrin Shakarami, told Radio Farda regarding Atash Shakharami’s appearance on state television. “I don’t really know how I can address this kind of conduct. So abominable, so disgusting,” she said.

“We did actually expect them to come up with various sorts of lies and excuses to exempt themselves,” Nasrin Shakarami added. “The behavior of these people is self-accusatory. I do not need to try much to prove that they are lying.”

One of Nika’s uncles, Mohsen Shakarami, who gave interviews and discussed his niece’s mysterious death on social media, was also shown on state television on October 5. After someone appears to whisper to him on-screen, “Say it, you piece of dirt,” he spoke out against the demonstrations that erupted after the death of Amini and said the family would follow proper legal channels to determine who was responsible for Nika’s death.

Nasrin Shakarami said that the authorities have attempted to call her several times in an apparent effort to get her to “confess” that the official account of Nika’s death is accurate.

“I never answered them, but they have called people close to me and have warned and threatened that Nika’s mother must come forward and say what we tell her and ‘confess,’” she said. “They want to force me into confessing in front of their camera and say that Nika either took her own life or that it was an accident.”

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