©Amnesty International

Iran: Authorities covering up their crimes of child killings by coercing families into silence

The Iranian authorities’ arbitrary arrest, intimidation and harassment of relatives of children, unlawfully gunned down or beaten to death by security forces in connection with protests, exposes their inconceivable cruelty and sinister attempt to cover up their crimes, said Amnesty International today.   

In updated research, Amnesty International has documented how the unlawful killings of children by Iran’s security forces continue unabated, detailing the names and details of at least 44 children and the heartless violence inflicted upon their families.   

The authorities have been killing children in a bid to crush the spirit of resistance among the country’s youth and retain their iron grip on power at any cost.

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International

“The authorities have not only condemned families of children killed to a lifetime of inconsolable sadness, but they have also inflicted extreme mental anguish upon them through cruel restrictions on burials, commemorations and relentless intimidation aimed at enforcing silence. These practices violate the absolute prohibition on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The recent establishment of a UN fact-finding mission to collect, consolidate and analyse evidence of such violations sends a clear message to the Iranian authorities that they can no longer commit crimes under international law and other grave violations of human rights without fear of consequences. Amnesty International now urges all states to exercise universal jurisdiction to criminally investigate Iranian officials involved in militarized attacks on demonstrators, including children.”

Amnesty International’s research has shown that Iran’s security forces shot 34 of the identified child victims with live ammunition in the heart, head or other vital organs. At least four were killed by metal pellets unlawfully fired by the security forces at close range. Five other children, four girls and one boy, died from injuries consistent with fatal beatings, and one girl was killed after being struck on the head with a tear gas canister. The recorded child victims include 39 boys, aged between two and 17, and five girls, three of whom were 16 years old, one 17 years old, and one aged six.

Children represent 14% of overall deaths of protesters and bystanders recorded by Amnesty International, which exceeds 300 since the protests erupted. Our investigations into killings by security forces continue and the number of those killed, including children, is believed to be higher.

The Iranian authorities have routinely harassed and intimidated the families of child victims to coerce them into silence or to force them to accept narratives absolving authorities of responsibility for the deaths of their loved ones in written statements or video recordings broadcast on state television. Amnesty International has identified such practices against the relatives of at least 13 child victims. Information obtained by the organization from informed sources indicates that security forces subjected them to coercion including arbitrary arrest and detention, threats to bury the bodies of their loved ones in unidentified location, and threats to kill, rape, detain or otherwise harm bereaved parents and their surviving children.

The father of Koumar Daroftadeh, a 16-year-old boy killed by live ammunition said on 13 November in an interview with Radio Farda, an independent media outlet:

“They [security and intelligence agents] summoned me and told me that I should say whatever they dictate to me… The authorities killed my son and must be held accountable.

Cruel restrictions on burials and commemorations 

Security and intelligence agents often threatened not to return the bodies of child victims for burial unless families commit, in writing, to remaining silent and observing restrictions on funeral and memorial ceremonies.

In some cases, officials prepared the bodies of victims for burial without notifying families, then handed them the bodies, wrapped in shrouds, minutes before the scheduled burial, denying families their right to wash and prepare their loved ones for burial in accordance with their own religious and cultural traditions.

Other restrictions included forcing families to bury their loved ones in remote villages, banning the use of word “martyr” and prohibiting relatives from hanging large memorial banners or sharing images of victims and funeral posters on social media.

Denying responsibility for unlawful killings of children

The Iranian authorities have publicly denied responsibility for the killing of at least 19 of the child victims. They have blamed 12 of these deaths on attacks by either “hired terrorists” or “unknown persons”, attributed three to suicidal or accidental falls from heights, one to a suicidal or accidental drug overdose, one to a dog bite, one to a motorcycle accident and another to a stampede.

For nine other children, all from the oppressed Baluchi minority, the authorities have questioned their deaths, claiming in their reports to member states of the UN Human Rights Council that “there is no death record” for the children concerned in the Sistan and Baluchistan province.

Children from persecuted minorities most targeted

Over 60% of the children killed were from Iran’s oppressed Baluchi and Kurdish minorities. These communities have long suffered from systemic discrimination and persecution by the authorities. 

A family member of a child unlawfully killed in Sistan and Baluchistan told Amnesty International:

“They did not pay any attention to us. They [Iranian authorities] do not consider us [Baluchis] human. There are many witnesses [to the killings], but their testimonies are worthless against the Islamic Republic because the authorities do not accept them.”

Of the 44 recorded child victims, 18, which amounts to 40%, belonged to Iran’s oppressed Baluchi minority. Thirteen of them were killed by security forces on 30 September in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan province, during the deadliest day of the authorities’ crackdown on the protests, widely known to Iranians as “Bloody Friday”.

Ten of the children killed, which amounts to 20%, were from the Kurdish minority and were killed in eight cities or towns in the Kurdish populated provinces of Kurdistan, Kermanshah and West Azerbaijan.

The remaining 16 child victims were killed in six other provinces across Iran.

“The authorities have been killing children in a bid to crush the spirit of resistance among the country’s youth and retain their iron grip on power at any cost. And yet despite that, many children have courageously continued to take to the streets in search of a future without political oppression and inequality,” said Heba Morayef.