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Iranians risk everything to protest.Their families say some of them won’t go home

“He called me and said one word: ‘I’ve been caught’ … I immediately understood what my dear brother meant and went to the moral police station (to look for him).” A 22-year-old man told CNN that he uses a pseudonym for security reasons when asked.

Farnaz, her brother, an accountant, took part in a demonstration in Iran’s southeastern city of Kerman on Monday against what he called the “oppressive government of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raishi.” said he did. People get into the Morale Police van. “

Amini’s suspicious death has become a symbol of the violent repression that women in Iran have faced for decades. Demonstrators say the regime is bleeding again.

Since last week, semi-official news outlets have reported that at least 17 people have died in violent clashes between protesters and security forces.CNN cannot independently confirm the death toll. In addition to the protesters, two Iranian paramilitary members were also killed.

During the hectic hours after his brother’s disappearance, Farnaz and his parents turned to the Kerman branch of the moral police for answers.

Instead, they say they encountered a sea of ​​other families looking for loved ones — many of whom said they were threatened by police.

It has been more than four days since Mr. Farnaz met his brother, but Mr. Farnaz is worried that his brother will not come back.

“My brother is being held captive by cruel people and we don’t even know his condition,” she said.

CNN confirmed a video showing armed police clashing with protesters in Kerman’s Azadi Square on Monday.

On Thursday, the US sanctioned several morality police and security officials it believed were responsible for Amini’s death.

“Brutal Subjugation of Iranians”

Amini’s family last saw her on Sept. 13 when she was driven off after being “beaten in the head” by Tehran’s morality police in the back seat of her car, she said. A cousin, Diako Aili, told CNN.

CCTV footage released by Iranian state media showed Amini collapsed at a “re-education” center in Tehran later that day. There she was taken in by the Moral Police and given “guidance” in her dress.

Two hours later she was transferred to Kasra Hospital in Tehran.

Aili said a doctor at Kasra Hospital, where Amini was treated, told her relatives that Amini had been hospitalized with “a brain injury upon arrival.”

Iranian president abandons CNN interview after Amanpour declines headscarf request

Aili lives in Norway and has not spoken to Amini since July, but is in frequent contact with her parents. He said none of his relatives were allowed into her hospital room to see her body.

“She died in a coma three days later…a young 22 year old woman with no heart disease or anything…she lived in a not very nice country and had dreams that I never had. I was a happy girl. I know,” Airi said.

CNN was unable to independently verify Airi’s account with hospital officials.

Iranian authorities claim Amini died of a heart attack and deny any wrongdoing.

Last weekend, the government said an autopsy was completed but it was still under investigation.

Family photo of Masa Amini as a child.

An official investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death is “ongoing,” but little has been done to quell the mayhem on the streets. It represents the biggest public outrage in Iran since the 2019 demonstrations over soaring food and fuel prices.

Amini’s death is particularly disturbing for Sima Babaei, who fled Iran in 2020 after serving time in Tehran’s Evin prison, which is notorious for not wearing a headscarf.

“Her death is a reminder of the brutality of the police not only to me, but to the thousands of Iranian women who have gone through this. Treated, handcuffed and humiliated me,” a women’s rights activist now living in Belgium told CNN.

Babaei, who has a large social media presence in Iran, knows what it’s like to accidentally become a protest icon. From 2017 to 2019 she became synonymous with the ‘Girls of Revolution Street’ anti-hijab demonstrations across Iran.

But this time, she says, the mood is different.

“I think this is the start of something. Women are lighting their scarves and eradicating regime symbols from the streets…Sooner or later, the Iranian people will achieve freedom and stand by our side.” will remember those who are

Concerns over the authorities’ next steps

Internet shutdown officials introduced Thursday to quell unrest appear to have had little effect.

The Iranian military has issued a warning to protesters, saying it was prepared to “face the enemy” to protect national security, according to the state-run Iranian news agency IRNA.

The military “strongly condemns” the attack on the police, adding that it “confronts various machinations of the enemy and protects Iran’s national security and interests.” At least 17 people have been killed in protests over the past week, according to semi-official Iranian media.

Hundreds of Iranians were arrested, tortured, imprisoned and in some cases sentenced to death under the National Security Act after the November 2019 protests, according to Amnesty International.

Mansoray Mills, who works for the organization’s Iran team, describes today’s situation as a “crisis of impunity” made possible by international inaction.

Mills told CNN, “We have received reports of young people being deliberately shot with metal pellets and other ammunition resulting in death or horrific injury. This is an attempt to brutally subjugate Iranians.” It’s a desperate attempt by the authorities to do so,” he said.

For Airi, who has been watching the protests from afar, the fear he now harbors over relatives in Iran who have spoken out about Amini’s death is devastating.

He offered to look after his family financially if the government kept quiet about his cousin’s affair, but they decided to make her story public.

“Why did you kill an innocent 22-year-old girl?”

“No one deserves to die just because they show their hair or say what they think…it’s a waste of their lives,” Airi told CNN.

CNN’s Mostafa Salem and Celine Alkhaldi contributed to the report.

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