An Iranian girl dressed in black stood on top of an overturned garbage can, brandishing a turban engulfed in flames and chanting “death to the dictator”.
Moments later, the video shows her crouching down to get another scarf from her friend, which she will also set on fire in front of protesters.
The girl is 16-year-old Nika Shahkarami from Tehran. In a video obtained and verified exclusively by CNN, just hours after the scenes were recorded on September 20, Nika disappeared. More than a week later, her family learned of her death.
Iranian authorities said Nika’s body was found behind a courtyard on the morning of September 21. Her mother was not allowed to identify her until eight days later. CCTV footage released by authorities after midnight on Sept. 20 to Sept. 21 shows the figure of a masked man they say is Nika entering an unoccupied building still under construction in Tehran .
A Tehran prosecutor initially said she died when she was thrown from the roof of a building and that her death “was not related to the protests that day”, but he did not say if there were any suspects, despite apparently declaring her death a homicide under investigation. The NBC report said she “fell” but offered no evidence to support the claim it was an accident.
On Wednesday, Iranian media reports quoted Tehran prosecutors as saying Nika’s death was a suicide after CNN asked the government to comment on the evidence in the investigation. Iranian authorities have still not responded to CNN’s repeated inquiries about Nika’s death.
Authorities never explained why Nika entered the building herself, and Nika’s mother said she did not believe the masked person was Nika. Her mother said she believed Nika was killed by authorities, but authorities never said whether Nika was in their custody at any point.
But dozens of videos and eyewitness accounts obtained exclusively by CNN indicate that Nika appeared to be pursued and detained by Iranian security forces that night. A key witness, Bin Laden, told CNN she saw Nika being detained at the protest by “several burly security guards in plainclothes” who tied her to a car.
Moments earlier, the witness filmed a video in a traffic jam in Tehran that allegedly showed Shahkarami hiding behind a white car and shouting “tekoon nakon, tekoon nakon” – meaning “don’t move, don’t move” – The driver before escaping the brief shelter it gave her.
Seven people who knew Nika and spoke to CNN confirmed it was her. The same video, taken at 8:37 p.m. on September 20, also shows riot police on motorcycles patrolling the area.
“I wanted to save her, but I couldn’t,” Bin Laden said. “There were about 20 or 30 Pasirjis on motorcycles on the sidewalk,” she said, using the local name of the paramilitary group that has been at the forefront of the state’s crackdown on protesters.
“Shahkarami was throwing stones at them. I was so scared, I even walked past her and said, ‘Be careful, honey! “Because there were some plainclothes cops looking for her through cars on the street.
“They found her fifty meters ahead,” Bin Laden added.
Bin Laden came to CNN after realizing that the teenager she filmed and talked to was the man whose death was reported days later. With the help of the militant group 1500Tasvir, CNN exclusively interviewed several witnesses who participated in the Tehran protests on September 20.
Other videos, including the burning of scarves, proved that Nika was at the forefront of the protests earlier in the night before the crackdown began, leading fearlessly chanting and throwing stones, some testimonies showed.
Witnesses said it would make her safe if security forces, including Iran’s feared Baski militias, began to descend into the area around Tehran University and Keshawaz Avenue, where most of the protesters gathered that night. target of the troops.
“I remember how brave she was because she would climb up the trash can and wouldn’t come down. She also burned her hijab,” said Najimeh, a protester who attended the demonstration with Nika.
CNN has used pseudonyms for all witnesses cited in this investigation due to security risks.
Students gathered near Lale Park between 5 and 6 p.m. on Sept. 20 to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman who died in state custody last month after being detained by the country’s ethics police , allegedly because of her dress.
The scene has become familiar in Tehran in recent weeks: young people, mostly women, chanting “death to the dictator”, burning headscarves and throwing stones at security forces.
At one point, a trash can was brought in and overturned to block the road. Nika jumped to the top with a few others, showing a video clip.
“She burned her hijab and waved it. I told her not to wave it because you could burn yourself, just hold it until it burns,” said Nima, who was also at the protest site and saw the incident. develop. “Then she took the headscarves of two friends who were with her and burned them too.”
In other videos from that night, geolocated and verified by CNN, Nika was shown throwing rocks at riot police. She wears a distinctive CAT rucksack with a black mask and hat on her head. What appeared to be gunshots could be heard.
Witnesses said the crackdown by security forces intensified from 7pm to 8pm. “They fired tear gas and projectiles and grabbed protesters. Almost all of us were confronting them and running away,” said Reza, another witness.
As riot police and Basski troops filled the streets, protesters began to move in all directions to escape the crackdown.
Another witness, Dina, who attended the protest with Nika, told CNN she saw Nika in front of a gas station not far from Tehran University, The group of protesters gathered there after fleeing tear gas fired by security forces. Others managed to capture on video those detained by what appeared to be plainclothes police.
“I saw with my own eyes the security forces beat women with batons and they caught many of them and took them to police cars,” Reza added.
It was against the backdrop of this extreme crackdown on the protests that Nika was last seen by witnesses who spoke to CNN — another nine days before her family was officially informed of her whereabouts. In the last eyewitness footage provided to CNN, the girl was surrounded by security forces from three directions, as evidenced by the video verified and located by CNN.
“I think Nika got stuck when we ran away that night. Because she was so young,” Dina said.
While Iranian authorities maintain that Nika died in the uninhabited building, her mother Nasrin told independent Iranian newspaper Etemad in an interview published on October 10 that she believed her daughter was “during the protests”. and was killed there.”
Iranian security forces arrested 8 staff members Nika allegedly entered the building hours after witnesses saw her during protests on September 20, state-aligned Tasnim news agency Oct. 4 daily report. Tehran prosecutor Ali Salish said it was a judicial criminal case and the state-run IRNA said it had launched and offered condolences to Nika’s family.
Mohammad Shahriari, the head of criminal prosecution in Tehran province, initially said that Nika’s injuries corresponded to being “fallen” and that the autopsy showed multiple fractures in the pelvis, head, upper and lower limbs, hands, feet and hips, Tasnim reports.
He added: “An investigation revealed that the incident was not related to the protests. No bullet holes were found in the bodies.”
CNN has repeatedly consulted with Iranian authorities, asking if Nika was detained during the night’s protests and whether other women were attacked and put into police cars. CNN also asked the Tehran prosecutor’s office about the criminal investigation into Nika’s death. No response had been received before this report was published.
On Wednesday, Mizan, an online news outlet affiliated with Iran’s judiciary, published a report saying the cause of Nika’s death was suicide, citing Iranian prosecutors.
However, the death certificate, first seen by BBC Persian and verified by CNN, said Shahkarami died from multiple injuries caused by hitting him with a hard object.
In an interview with Etemad, Nasrin said that on the day of her disappearance, she had several phone calls with Shahkarami. Nasrin added that background noise during the call suggested she and other protesters were fleeing security forces.
According to Nasrin, Nika also mentioned several locations where she was — Enghelab Square, Keshavarz Boulevard, and Valiasr Street, which matched the video targeted by CNN.
The last time Nasrin spoke to her daughter was just before midnight, she said, and after that, all her attempts to call Nika showed her phone was disconnected. Nika’s Instagram and Telegram accounts have been deleted, according to Nika’s aunt and several protesters who spoke to CNN.
For days, her family said they went to police stations, prisons and hospitals to track down her, but to no avail. Finally, on September 30, Nika’s mother and brother were asked to identify Nika’s body, she told BBC Persian.
On October 6, Nasrin claimed in an interview with Falda Radio that Nika’s national ID number was given to her while she and the rest of the family had been searching for Nika in the days following her disappearance. , and told her that “the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps found her and they wanted to slowly interrogate her.”
This matches that of Shahkarami’s aunt Atash, tell the BBC in Persian shortly after she disappeared. “Unofficial sources from the IRGC themselves contacted me to say that the child was detained by us a week ago and that (she) was transferred to Avon prison 1 or 2 days ago after we completed the interrogation and established the case file,” Atta even said.
Atash and Nika’s uncle, Mohsen, was subsequently arrested by Iranian security forces and forced to make false statements, according to BBC Persian, citing a source close to the family. When Atash was contacted by CNN following the BBC report, Atash asked not to be contacted again, citing security concerns.
While the family searches for answers, those who were with Nika that day are still grappling with her death.
“The situation was so dire, everyone wanted to run away,” Dina said. “I can’t forgive Nika’s death. She was still a child.”