Teenage protester Nika Shakarami, whose bruised body was handed back to her family earlier this week before being stolen by authorities and secretly buried, died after falling from a building rather than due to police brutality, an Iranian prosecutor has claimed.
Ali Salehi said an “investigation” has been opened into the death of Nika, 16, who went missing for 10 days after joining protests in Tehran as demonstrations sweep the country, semi-official news agency Tasnim reported.
“The initial investigation showed that the deceased's backpack and mobile phone were located on the roof of the adjacent four-storey house,” Tasnim reported Mr Salehi as saying.
The prosecutor said Nika's family had identified her body.
Atash Shakarami, Nika's aunt, who tweeted repeatedly after her niece's disappearance in an attempt to uncover information on her whereabouts, told BBC Persian that, before she died, Nika had told a friend that she was running away from security forces.
Ms Shakarami added that the family was asked to identify Nika at a morgue in a “detention centre” in Tehran.
Her aunt said that when the family were handed the girl's body, it showed signs of severe trauma.
“In the morning, when [the police] went to hand over the body, they saw that her nose was destroyed and her skull was broken and disintegrated from multiple blows of a hard object,” Ms Shakarami said, according to The Telegraph newspaper.
Mr Salehi said eight people had been arrested in connection with Nika's death.
Demonstrations erupted nationwide in Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16. She died in police custody after being detained for failure to comply with Iran's dress code for women.
Mr Salehi earlier said 400 protesters had been released from jail after promising “not to repeat their actions”, while others remain in custody on more serious charges.
A video circulated on social media purportedly showed Nika's mother carrying a photo of her daughter, shouting “congratulations on your martyrdom”. The National was unable to verify the authenticity of the clip.
Sunday would have been Nika's 17th birthday but was instead the day authorities buried her in Veysian, around 40km away from her hometown of Khorramabad.
Unlike previous protests
Shahin Milani, executive director of US-based Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, told The National that this wave of demonstrations are visibly different from those that have occurred in previous years.
“In November 2019, the protests were mostly taking place in smaller towns and impoverished suburbs where the really brutal killings were taking place,” he said.
“But now, you see protests even in rich neighbourhoods of northern Tehran. The middle class is more involved in this round of protests than it was in 2019.”
At least 154 protesters have been killed in demonstrations in recent weeks, Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights said on Wednesday.
So far, Iran has not unleashed what Mr Milani called a “military-style crackdown”, despite major defiance by civilians who have been burning their headscarves and photos of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
“The slogans of the protesters are very clear — that they're fed up with the system and they want it gone,” Mr Milani said.
Similarly, commentators and Iran watchers discussing the situation in the country said the 2022 protests cannot be defined as anti-hijab or pro-feminist movements.
“Protesters obviously want a secular government — a government that does not enforce any religious law. They are fed up with this system and its entirety because of the killing of Mahsa Amini,” Mr Milani said.
Commenting on a video of Iranian schoolgirl burning their headscarves, US-based Iranian activist Delbar Tavakoli said: “The ideology behind this piece of cloth destroyed the lives of several generations!”
Iran's government has been stifling dissent among protesters, going beyond the streets and arresting people such as singer Shervin Hajipour, whose viral song has become the anti-government movement's anthem.
Hajipour has since been released on bail, but the lyrics of his song Baraye ("for” in English) speak of the reasons ordinary Iranians have given for taking to the streets.
Tasnim news agency said the singer-songwriter was arrested on suspicion of “showing support for rioters and solidarity with the enemies by posting the song in social media without getting permission for it”.