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Deaths of Iranian schoolgirls fuel public anger – DW – 19/10/2022

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Asra Panahi, 16, was a student from Ardabil city in northwest Iran. Broader and more violent protests erupted in the city after reports that an Azeri ethnic minority youth died Friday after he was beaten to death by security forces.

Authorities denied the reports, saying that the woman died of a chronic heart problem and that the police did not hit her.

However, her death has fueled public anger, which has been fueled by the recent death of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini after her arrest in Tehran by Iran’s so-called morality police for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.

The Middle Eastern nation has seen massive anti-regime protests across the country in recent weeks.

What do we know about Panahi’s death?

Panahi reportedly died on October 13 after security forces raided Shahed girls’ high school in Ardabil and ordered a group of girls to sing a song in praise of the Islamic Republic.

Asra Panahi
Iranian officials said Asra Panahi died of a chronic heart problem and the police did not hit her.Image:

When some students refused to participate, they were severely beaten and many were hospitalized. Panahi was among them. He was reported to have died in hospital on Friday from injuries sustained at school.

Despite widespread internet outages in Iran, the news quickly spread on social media networks.

News agencies close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, such as Tasnim, reported that Panahi’s uncle said the high school student died of a heart problem.

However, a screenshot soon surfaced online showing Panahi as a competitive athlete. At age 12, she finished third in a regional swimming competition in her home city.

This information has since been deleted from the swimming federation’s website.

“The truth is that he took his own life,” as quoted by the Ardabil mayor’s news portal Entekhab. “She took pills because she had family problems.”

Three more schoolgirls beaten by police died

Former national football player Ali Daei criticized Iranian officials on Instagram, saying “You don’t tell the truth”. Many Iranians share this view. Daei, Erdebilli, who also played for Arminia Bielefeld, Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin in the German Bundesliga. “I know what’s going on in my city,” said the 53-year-old.

This is not the first time authorities have attempted to deny responsibility for the death of female students in the past four weeks.

“We have information showing that at least three more female students were killed with severe blows to the head,” Amnesty International Iran expert Raha Bahreini told DW.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 23 children were killed using unlawful force during the protests between September 20 and 30.

Among those killed were 20 boys, aged 11-17, and three girls, one 17 and two 16 years old, Bareini said. “Most of the men died as security forces fired live ammunition illegally, often at close range. Three girls – Setareh Tajik, Sarina Esmailzadeh and Nika Shahkarami – received fatal blows to the head.”

But he said the children’s families were pressured to say that their child died as a result of illness or suicide.

The mother of 17-year-old Nika Shahkarami confirmed this. According to the Iranian government, Shahkarami was found dead on September 21 after falling from the roof of a building. His family had to confirm this on state television.

However, the victim’s mother refused to make an official statement in a video she sent to Persian media abroad, saying her daughter was killed during a protest by Iranian security forces.

“The security forces are doing their best to exonerate themselves,” said his mother, Nasrin, in the video.

Iranians continue to pressure at home and abroad

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Schoolgirls defy the Islamic regime

Schoolgirls have been at the forefront of the latest round of anti-regime protests that have swept the country and presented a major challenge to Islamic clerics. Students hold protests in schools, take off their headscarves and shout anti-government slogans. Pictures and videos of their shows have gone viral on the internet.

To curb the protests, security forces have been raiding schools since last week. Plain-clothed civil servants, often briefed by school administrators, suddenly appear, forcing them into classrooms and forcibly arresting female students.

In some cases, tear gas is also used in schools. Iran’s Teachers’ Union on Sunday condemned the “brutal and inhuman” raids on schools and confirmed reports of the violent arrests and deaths of female students.

This article was originally written in German.