By Mansoureh Khodabakhsh
December 1, 2021
On Friday, November 26, blood flowed on the dry bed of the Zayanderud river. Two weeks after a fresh round of protests got under way in Isfahan, officers from the police’s Special Forces Unit tore into the crowd on motorbikes, attacking farmers and civilians with batons and birdshot while tear gas hung in the air. So far scant information is available on how serious the crackdown was that chaotic afternoon, during which local internet access was also disrupted. IranWire spoke to a nurse in Isfahan province about the injured protesters she treated in hospital.
Farmers from Isfahan and neighboring provinces have been making their grievances known about water resource mismanagement for more than 10 years. But the assault by security forces on their latest, peaceful protest last week was unprecedented. Images and videos of injured people – many of them from the agricultural community – fleeing the scene surfaced on social media on Friday. They came together with reports that patients with birdshot wounds were being turned away from some hospitals, including Ziar in Rahimabad, east of Isfahan, and Isa Ibn Maryam and Al-Zahra in the city center.
A nurse who works at a government hospital near the site of the conflict told IranWire several people had been severely hurt on Friday. The head of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, which manages the province’s public hospitals, has claimed a total of 19 people were harmed in the clashes but none had received a debilitating injury. Under the pseudonym Shahrbanoo, the nurse said this was a lie: she herself witnessed a 40-year-old protester having his eye removed.
In another hospital in Isfahan, she said, a trusted colleague had told her that the body of a protester who died from internal bleeding had been kept for a protracted period in the morgue there. His death certificate finally made the cause of death out to be an “accident”.
“These are my friend’s observations,” Shahrbanoo said. “She witnessed this happening first-hand. In the middle of the night, she called me and said the family of a young man who had been injured had been rushed to the emergency room on Friday night.
“The hospital we’re talking about is far from the scene of the conflict, in the northern part of the city. The injured man’s family said they had [deliberately] taken him to a far-off hospital so the police wouldn’t arrest him. He was reportedly still warm, and probably would have survived if he’d been taken to a nearby hospital and received medical treatment in a timely manner. The cause of his death was internal bleeding, but no-one dared to write such a thing on the death certificate. His body was eventually taken to the Legal Medicine Organization and his family was told it was better to say that he had an accident.”
Last weekend, the Voice of Isfahan Telegram channel wrote that the security office at Al-Zahra Hospital blocked the admission of several wounded protesters on Friday night. The next day, they went to either Kashani or Isa Ibn Maryam Hospitals, but the latter also refused to admit patients with fractures and pellet wounds.
Shahrbanoo said most of those who arrived at her institution on Friday had been sprayed with birdshot in the head, neck and chest, or had suffered fractured arms and legs. But one patient’s condition was worse: “The man’s right cornea was torn and destroyed. As for his left eye, the doctor said he couldn’t give a definite prognosis and time would tell. His right eye had to be taken out.
“He wasn’t young; around 40 years old. His whole face was covered in blood. He told the emergency doctor his name was Amir. He said an officer had shot at him at close range. An hour after the patient was admitted, hospital guards informed the security forces, who came and surveyed the patient and filed a case against him under another name. Then they said medical staff had no right to converse [further] with the patient without the present of an operative. We were all worried they would take this poor man, who’d just lost his eye, away with them in the middle of the night.”
Shahrbanoo also saw another patient with a broken wrist and two broken fingers. Despite his injury, she said, he had asked the head nurse to release him with some strong painkillers so he could hide at his friend’s house. He said he was employed by a government organization and had only gone to the rallies “out of curiosity”, but was now afraid of being fired, arrested or even jailed. Another young man, she said, had been beaten with a baton so badly that his ribs were broken.
Fears on the part of both patients and clinical staff that wounded protesters will be taken away by security forces are well-founded. At the recent Aban Tribunal in London, multiple witnesses testified that agents were entering hospital wards and rounding up all those who appeared to have been shot. A doctor also told the court he had treated patients in secret, at his home. On Friday, too, Shahrbanoo said, one of her colleagues had stitched up a young man’s hand in the hospital laundry room to avoid detection. “He took the patient out through a back door and put him no a chair. I said it would be better to tell the shift doctor, but he said he’d probably reprimand us. For this reason, we treated the young man quickly and sent him home.”
Most of those Shahrbanoo saw at the hospital were from the agricultural community, she said, though state media has already tried to paint the injured as third parties trying to cause trouble. “Most of them were older,” she said. “At least four had come to hospital because they’d had a heart attack [during the protests].”
The image that remains in Shahrbanoo’s mind over and above all else, she said, is that of an elderly man with a cut on his cheek and a broken nose. “While I was suturing the wrinkled skin of his face, he endured it, and didn’t move. But he looked very sad, as if he hadn’t expected such a thing to happen to him.”