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Source: IranWire

Jun 13, 2023

Blinding As A Weapon: The Blinded Father Whose Child Miraculously Survived


As IranWire has reported, hundreds of Iranians have sustained severe eye injuries after being hit by pellets, tear gas canisters, paintball bullets or other projectiles used by security forces amid a bloody crackdown on mainly peaceful demonstrations.

Doctors say that, as of now, at least 580 protesters have lost one or both eyes in Tehran and in Kurdistan alone. But the actual numbers across the country are much higher. The report concluded that such actions by the security forces could constitute a “crime against humanity,” as defined by Article 7 of the Rome Statute.

IranWire has explored this question more deeply in an interview with Professor Payam Akhavan, a prominent human rights lawyer, special advisor to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and a former member of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

IranWire is aware of more than 50 serious eye injuries sustained by protestors and bystanders over the past five months. With the help of independent ophthalmologists, we have reviewed the medical records of around a dozen individuals and compiled a comprehensive medical report.

In the series of reports “Blinding as a Weapon,” IranWire presents the victims’ stories told in their own words. Some have posted their stories, along with their names and pictures, on social media. Others, whose real names shall not be disclosed to protect their safety, have told their stories to IranWire, which can make their identities and medical records available to international legal authorities and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

This is the story of Delpasand family: Ali, the father, Bahareh, the mother, and Respina, their little daughter. On November 15, 2022, their car came under fire from security forces in the city of Rasht. The father lost an eye and the face of the mother was filled with pellets.

The little girl, who witnessed this savagery, miraculously survived unharmed.

A day later, Kian Pirfalak, a boy of nine, the same age as Respina, and his family were similarly attacked in their car in another city but he did not survive. When Respina heard about Kian, she painted a rainbow in his memory and Delpasand family has never forgotten about him.

It was the afternoon of November 15, 2022. Bahareh and her husband, Ali Delpasand, were in their car and had picked up their daughter Respina from a training class. The streets were crowded with protesters. They wanted to join them and a few times left the car to do so. But they came face to face with security forces and returned to their car. Ali was sounding the car’s horn to show his support for the protesters. Respina and a family friend were sitting in the back of the car. Bahareh, sitting in front, extended her arm out of the window with a victory sign when something like a sledgehammer crashed unto her face.

Suddenly, the windshield and windows were shattered and Respina started screaming. Bahareh turned her head and saw that her husband’s neck was bent forward. Blood and screaming overwhelmed her. Protesters surrounded the car, a man opened the car door, pushed Ali to the side, sat behind the wheel and drove the family to their home.

Seven months later, Ali, Bahareh and Respina left Iran for Turkey. In a phone interview, they told IranWire about that night and what they went through later.

From Iran To Turkey

You can hear the voice of the child on the phone, which continuously changes hands between Bahareh and Ali. The names of Kian Pirfalak and his mother Mahmonir Molaei-Rad and how their car was hit with a volley of gunfire is repeated in our conversation. “Just like what happened to Kian,” Ali and Bahareh repeat several times.

What Ali says about the moment that their car was shot is what his wife had described to him.

Bahareh takes the phone: “We were stuck in the traffic. Everybody was honking. Just then I was telling Ali that people believe those who were killing the protesters are not Iranians. Two motorcycles of agents of repression were on the side of that street, next to our car.

They spoke in Gilaki [spoken language of Iran’s northern province of Gilan]. I told Ali that they were our kinsmen. I turned my head towards the car next to us. A girl had extended her hand out of the car’s window with a victory sign and I did the same. Then everything was torn apart. Suddenly something like a sledgehammer crashed unto my face and blood gushed from my face. I turned towards Ali and saw his neck drooping. I thought that he had died.”

It happened in Golsar, a suburb of Rasht, the capital of Gilan province. The protests were centered on Gelayol Junction and protesters had blocked entrances to the square, except one, and that was the one that the cars were trying to use. Motorcyclist security agents had parked their motorcycles on the sidewalk. It was from the sidewalk, three or four meters away, that they fired their pellet guns at their car, right at the moment when Bahareh had her hand out with a victory sign.

Ali takes the phone: “And they only shot at our car. They did not shoot at any car with a single passenger. Why did they target us, a family? Did they know me? Had they aimed at us?”

People gathered around their car. The protesters were shouting: “Get this family away from here so that the security forces will not get to them.” Bahareh and Respina were shouting. Ali’s and Bahareh’s faces were covered with blood.

The Priority Was Ali’s Eye

One protester jumped in the car and started driving the family to their home. A Kia Pride car with a few bearded passengers followed them. They told the driver that they were willing to take Ali to the hospital, but Bahareh rejected their offer, and the Pride car went away. Bahareh left Respina in the care of a neighbor and drove to the hospital in another car.

The clinics and the hospitals in Rasht sent them to Tehran’s Farabi Hospital. Worried that she would attract the attention of security forces because of the pellets on her forehead and her cheeks, Bahareh had pulled down the hood of her parka over her face. At the hospital, the guard told them it would be better if Bahareh left the hospital because security agents were stationed there.

A pellet was lodged under Bahareh’s eye and two in her eyebrow. Had they been a fraction higher or lower, Bahareh might have lost an eye.

Bahareh takes over the call: “They told us in the hospital that pellets in my face were not a priority: my husband’s eye needed immediate treatment. The hospital was filled with people who had been injured in the eye. A woman was there who was shot as she was watching the street from the balcony of her home.

Another woman was shot in her leg and they transferred her to another hospital. All I could think of was Ali. One side of his face was swollen in a horrible way and his eye was protruding. Right then and there they threw away his clothes because they were so bloody. They offered to take the pellets out of my face but I could not think about myself.”

Ali underwent four surgeries in 45 days. Two pellets had torn through his eyeball and had reached the nerve. The doctors told him that they could not take out the pellets.

“They did surgery on the retina as well but, in the end, they said that my eye had gone blind,” says Ali. “My damaged eye cannot even see light. Everything is completely black.” He laughs and adds: “For the moment, I am keeping it as a memento.”

Ali was hospitalized in Tehran for close to two months. After that, doctors wanted to remove the pellets from Bahareh’s and Ali’s faces. But the pellets had been lodged too deeply in the flesh and needed surgery to be removed.

In September, Respina, whose name means “Autumn” in Gilaki, will turn 10. When Ali talks about Respina’s age, he repeats: “The same age as Kian.” And when Bahareh talks about the night of the shooting, she says: “We were lucky that the car windows were pulled up. Otherwise the same calamity that befell Kian might have happened to Respina as well.”

They speak many times about November 16, 2022, and what happened to Kian Pirfalak and his family on that day and compare themselves to them. They say that Respina and Kian were of the same age and both their cars were fired on. Respina’s father is now blind in one eye and Kian’s father has been maimed.

Ali is 44 years old and Bahareh is 21. Ali entered the job market after he received his high school diploma and, before being injured, was the sales representative for a line of cosmetics and hygienic products so he knew many pharmacists and doctors. It was through them that he was quickly hospitalized and had four surgeries. Bahareh was an accountant for 13 years. But when Respina was four, she quit working.

“Respina’s first reaction to my blinded eye was a painting that she did,” says Ali. “We were in Tehran and Respina was back home with the family. She sent them to her mother and her mother showed it to me a week later.

Now, we have left Iran for perhaps better medical treatment and, more important than anything else, for the sake of Respina’s future.”

For a few months after returning home from hospital, Ali hardly went out. Sometimes his friends brought a car to take him for a drive so that he would feel better. But he did not go back to his job and lost his income. To pay for the treatment of Ali’s eye, the couple sold their furniture and household items.

Ali’s voice becomes somber, like he has just become aware he is living the life of a fugitive: “My view of life has changed. Now I have to start all over again from zero. I left Iran for the sake of my family.”

What would they say, and what punishment they would demand, if they bring the shooter to a just court?

Ali: “We don’t want to be like them, so we leave it to God. They say that heaven and hell are both in this world, so he would pay for it in this life. I would tell him: ‘We cannot even trample an ant. How could you shoot at a family and then stay there and just look?’”

Bahareh: “I am more angry than sad. Ali said that he would let it go but I would not. I want the same thing done to him that he did to us. I still cry when I talk about this incident. You have no idea what we have been through.”

Bahareh continues with a lump in her throat: “Perhaps you won’t believe it. Since that day we have not listened to a happy song, we have not gone to a party; nothing.

My nerves are shattered. After two months in Tehran, I just wanted to return to Rasht, to the same place where they shot us, so that I could believe what had happened to us. And I went. I stood there but I could not do anything. I just kept looking around me.”

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