The Controversy Surrounding The Death Of Iranian Teen Protestor Nika Shakarami

Prior to 1979, Iran was ... well, it was by no standard particularly free, especially when compared to the West, but it was not the theocratic dictatorship it is now. As Insider reports, the country's ruler — the Shah — repressed dissent, but at the same time, steered the country towards adopting at least some Western freedoms. Women walked freely in Western clothes without having to wear head coverings and were encouraged to attend school and get educated. Of course, since 1979, Iran has been controlled by a theocracy, and, as the Center for Human Rights in Iran reports, the country has enforced a strict version of Islamic law and racked up a dismal human rights record in the process, in particular when it comes to the rights of women.

However, since mid-September 2022, Iranians have been protesting their oppressive government since the suspicious death of a woman, possibly at the hands of the country's morality police (via the BBC). They were sparked by the death of a woman named Mahsa Amini. However, another woman — or more accurately, a teenage girl named Nika Shakarami — died under similar circumstances, and her death has become attached to the narrative of the country's protests.

Nika Shakarami Disappeared After A Protest

On September 20, 2022, 16-year-old Nika Shahkarami was captured at a protest burning her and her friends' hijabs during protests in Tehran (via CNN). A few hours later, she went missing. Ten days after that, her family was informed that she was dead.

That is the beginning and the end of what is known for certain about Shahkarami's fate. The narrative about what happened to her has shifted over the weeks: At various times, her family has been told that she was murdered by being thrown from a building, that she simply fell, or that she committed suicide. As Firstpost reports, her family was at one time given her body, which reportedly showed signs that she had been beaten to death. According to NCRI Women Committee, she was likely held by security forces and moved between prisons, though her family was unable to locate or visit her during this time.

Persecuted Even in Death

Even after her death, it appears that Iranian authorities are continuing to persecute Nika Shakarami and her family. According to BBC, her family had to find her body rather than having it given back to them. They intended to have a public burial for her, but instead, they allege that authorities stole her body and then buried it somewhere else after pressuring them not to have a funeral. According to The Washington Post, using the bodies of victims of state-sanctioned violence as a means of silencing and intimidating their families is not unusual in Iran.

Meanwhile, according to a companion BBC report, protests continue in Iran and have escalated, even as Iranian security forces ramp up their crackdown. The protests have expanded to include not only Mahsa Amini as their focal point but Nika as well. The BBC calls the protests "the most serious challenge to the Islamic republic since its inception."