By Aida Ghajar
January 21, 2020
It was January 12. Crowds of protesters were on the streets, chanting against the Islamic Republic. The protests were triggered by the downing of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 by two Revolutionary Guard’s missiles on January 8, and the death of all 176 passengers and crew onboard. A week on, people who took part in the protests that night have been sharing their stories, many of them full of terror and about the security forces’ acts of intimidation against them.
That night, Shiva (an alias) set out for Azadi Avenue, a Tehran thoroughfare, accompanied by her two sisters and a group of friends. They were trying to get to Azadi Avenue through side streets, but no matter what route they tried security forces targeted them with teargas and paintball guns. Shiva’s sister and friends still have bruises from the paintball shots.
She says they wanted to add their voices to those who were showing their anger over the shooting down of the passenger plane. “We strongly believe that it was not a human error and the plane was not shot down by mistake,” she says. “These days many ask this question: Who were the people on that flight that they wanted to prevent from getting to their destination? For me, too, this assumption is closer to reality than human error, especially considering the reports about this incident that are coming out.”
After failing to find a safe way to Azadi Avenue, Shiva says, “we decided to cover our faces and wade through the teargas to get to Azadi Avenue. The moment that we got to the avenue they started shooting at us with paintballs. Paintball shots hit the leg of one of my sisters, the breast of my other sister and the waist of a friend. Paintball shots might not cause serious damage but it causes a lot pain when it hits the body from close range and with force. My friend fell to the ground and all three were badly bruised.”
After being hit by paintball shots, they started running: “The shooting was intense. We were forced to escape to a parallel street and join the crowd. Almost all of them had returned to where they had started. We were chanting, the same chants that have been shared on social media. Within 10 minutes security forces dispersed us by shooting teargas. More than 50 or 60 security motorcyclists drove into the crowd. We started running away and lost each other.”
Motorcycles to Stir Terror
According to Shiva, the motorcyclists pursued the running protesters, twirling their batons around their heads and shouting “go, go!”
Shiva escaped into a narrow street. “I could only run in the space between the wall and the parked cars,” she says. “One of my sisters and my friends were hiding under the cars. For a moment I was trapped between the wall and a car. One of the security forces motorcyclists, who wanted to invoke terror by pressing down on the gas and twirling his baton, was only five steps away from me and noticed my helplessness. I was extremely scared. I was afraid that he would strike me so hard with his baton that he would break something or even kill me. But he kept shouting, ‘just go away.’ I kept running and weeping. I wanted to find my sisters and my friends. At last we found each other after two or three hours.”
A few people hid under parked cars and others on the slides in the nearby park, but security forces were everywhere and it was very difficult for the protesters to gather together. “We ran in the streets and cried,” she says. “Even when we went into side streets the motorcyclists followed us. They pressed down on the gas and twirled their batons.”
Shiva says neither her sisters nor her friends went to the hospital for treatment because they were afraid they would be arrested. So they decided to treat their injuries themselves at home with painkillers and compresses.
Shiva says she and her family also participated in the protests following the disputed 2009 presidential election, when hundreds were killed. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been declared the winner and reformist candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were put under house arrest. “At the time we believed that our votes had not been counted,” she says. “Later, when the crackdown intensified, our family would not allow us to participate in protests because they were afraid for our lives but we used text messages to tell each other where the demonstrations were.”
Now, however, Shiva believes that the nature of protests has changed: “If there are more rallies I would of course participate, although I now believe that such civil protests will never produce any results because they will be stopped with mass suppression and killings. My only wish is that we can find other ways to force [the Islamic Republic government] to yield to the people’s will. It is in hoping for that day that we breathe in the midst of this darkness and corruption.”
Protests on January 12 extended to universities as well. Scores of students were arrested and many were beaten. Security forces had a heavy presence on all major streets, but the protesters continued chanting against Ayatollah Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards, demanding an end to the Islamic Republic regime.