Who is killing who in Iran, and how do we know? The death of a young boy last week illustrates how narratives are deliberately distorted in conflict.
By Fereshteh Sadeghi
December 02, 2022: Information Clearing House -- "The Cradle" The Black Wednesday of Izeh: that’s what Iranian media has dubbed the tragic events of Wednesday, 16 November, when seven people were shot dead by gunmen in a busy market amid the unrest and riots that have engulfed parts of Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini two months ago.
Among the casualties were two children: Kian Pir-Falak, age 9 and Abteen Rahmani, age 13. Surprisingly, only Kian’s death has emerged as a matter of dispute between Iran’s government and its opposition, both within the country and among the Iranian diaspora.
For starters, anti-Iran media outlets and their cyberspace supporters pounced on and amplified Kian’s mother’s accusation that Basiji volunteer forces were responsible for her son’s death.
The Basij, originally conceived as a “people’s militia,” is a volunteer paramilitary force that serves under the command of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and participates in internal security and law enforcement duties.
The narratives surrounding the events in Izeh in general and Kian’s death in particular – but not Abteen’s – highlight the level of propaganda that has been employed to shape an image of a brutal, repressive Islamic Republic across the world.
What happened in Izeh?
The city of Izeh which lies 200 kilometers north-east of Ahvaz – capital of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province – was restive for three days (15 to 17 November) amid Iranian opposition calls for an uprising against the state. Among the anti-government slogans chanted by the protestors and rioters was “this year is the year of blood….Sayyed Ali (Khamenei) will fall.”
Izeh, with a population of nearly 120,000, was one of the cities involved in both the 2018 and 2021 anti-government protests. Reports suggest that part of this is related to longterm anti-government sentiment among locals belonging to the region’s Bakhtiari nomads. The Bakhtiaris are typically very boastful of Izeh’s natural and pre-Islamic heritage sites that date back to the Achaemenids and Sassanid kingdoms.
Following Kian’s death, western-funded Persian-language media outlets and their supporters immediately blamed Iranian security forces for the 9-year-old’s death by gunfire, calling the government “a child-killer regime.” It is worth noting that Tehran usually uses this expression in condemnation of its arch-enemy Israel.
The main source of this accusation was Kian’s mother. She claims that on 16 November, when the city’s “protesters” announced they were raising arms against the “regime,” her family car passed through a checkpoint where Basiji volunteers had taken position.
The Basij are said to have yelled toward their car, instructing the family to turn around because further down the street armed rioters “were shooting at people.” Kian’s father, however, did not heed the warnings until he reached a juncture where gunmen lay in wait. After he made a sharp U-turn to avoid the danger ahead, further details of the story start to become hazy and the war of narratives starts.
The accusations of Kian’s mother, who recited an insulting nursery rhyme against Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei at the graveyard where her son was buried, were promptly blasted across social media platform, Instagram. She claimed Basiji forces opened fire at their car, killing her young son and wounding her husband.
Video evidence emerges
The IRGC command center in Khuzestan province, however, rejected these accusations in a statement, instead blaming motorcyclists armed with Kalashnikovs for the tragic murder of Kian, another teenager, three Basiji members, and two further Iranian citizens. Nearly a dozen further local people were injured in the shootings that day.
Then two days later, videos of the restive nights in Izeh began spreading on social media. They revealed previously unknown details of the rioters’ activities – from shooting at and throwing stones to destroy local surveillance cameras, to footage of a bloodied naked male running in the street. The opposition accounts that released the naked man’s video claim he was a member of the Basij, stripped bare at the hands of “protesters.”
Khuzestani journalist Esmail Manavi, however, cites locals in Izeh telling an altogether different story. On his Twitter account, Manavi writes that the man was a member of a law enforcement force who was captured by thugs storming a local hospital, and were trying to set him on fire before being rescued by locals.
But the most remarkable footage of all during these events is a three-minute video recorded by a body cam. We don’t know the exact identity of the security forces whose voices can be heard on the video, but Tasnim News Agency reports that they are “guardians of the security,” a phrase often used for Basijis and law enforcement officers.