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Killing Another Teen Protester Gives Iran’s Insurgency A New Symbol

16-year-old Sarina Esmaeilzadeh loved sharing her life online with the world. On her video blog, the charismatic teen sang, danced, cooked, did her makeup and celebrated the end of exams. On September 22, Esmaeilzadeh joined the protests that swept the country and was beaten to death by Iranian security forces, human rights groups say.

When her case received attention online, Iranian authorities denied any responsibility on Friday, claiming she committed suicide by jumping off a roof. But the details of Esmaeilzadeh’s death in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran, fit into a broader pattern of security forces targeting, arresting and, in some cases, killing minors as Iran’s anti-government insurgency enters its fourth week. .

Esmaeilzadeh “died after being severely beaten in the head with batons,” according to Amnesty International, which reported her death on Sept. 30 as one of at least 52 people killed by security forces until Sept. 25, a report later confirmed by other rights groups.

On her blog, Esmaeilzadeh would occasionally complain about the discrimination faced by women in Iran. Teens “need freedom” to live a good life, she said in a video posted May 22. But she couldn’t, she said, “because of restrictions specific to women,” such as the mandatory hijab being barred from sports stadiums. Iranians could expect “nothing else” from the government except social benefits, she said.

“It hasn’t been 20 years since we hadn’t seen a single teenager other than ourselves,” Esmaeilzadeh, dressed in a colorful shirt with cartoon prints, told the camera. “And it’s only natural that as a human being you look at the better option.”

Esmaeilzadeh’s case is creepy similar to that of Nika Shakarami, 16, who also died last month during protests. Her family claims she was killed by security forces after burning a hijab, while Iranian authorities claim she fell from a roof. Shakarami’s death, and apparent attempts to cover it up and intimidate her family, sparked even more outrage.

It was the unexplained death of another young woman, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, in the custody of Iran’s vice squad that first sparked nationwide protests in mid-September. Despite the violent crackdown and internet shutdown, the popular uprising has continued, posing the greatest challenge to Iran’s spiritual leaders in several years.

“I see that the protests have continued to spread after the murder rate has increased, especially with the murders of Nika and Sarina,” Negin, a 36-year-old art teacher at a Tehran high school who joined the protests, told the newspaper. The Washington Post. She spoke on the condition that only her first name would be used to protect her safety.

Negin said one of her male relatives initially dismissed the protests as “a bunch of spoiled kids making a mess”. But he was very saddened by the death of Esmaeilzadeh, which he compared to the loss of a great poet in Iran.

Iranian censorship and reporting restrictions make casualties difficult to verify, but rights groups have identified more than two dozen children killed in demonstrations. Many of the minors lived in long-marginalized areas of Iran, including the provinces of Kurdistan and Baluchistan, where the state’s crackdown was most severe.

Esmaeilzadeh reportedly went to protest with several friends after class on September 22. She didn’t come back that night.

Reports about Esmaeilzadeh’s death and videos from her blog soon started circulating online. A video of the teenager singing a song from the Irish musician Hozier reached out to the singer on Friday, he said.

“We talk about freedoms without understanding what it means to pay the ultimate price by fighting for them,” he said. Hozier tweeted. “This brave girl was only 16 years old on the world…”

Under pressure, Iranian authorities said Friday that the teen died by suicide by jumping off a five-story building. State TV also aired an interview with Esmaeilzadeh’s mother, who said her daughter had once tried to kill herself with pills. She confirmed the official cause of death.

But Iran has a long history of extracting confessions and broadcasting them on state television, according to human rights groups. Shakarami’s mother said her family was pressured to make false statements about her daughter’s death.

State television was briefly hacked on Saturday by a group calling itself “Adalat Ali” or Ali’s Justice. The hackers interrupted a news bulletin with slogans supporting the protests and photos of killed protesters, including Esmaeilzadeh.

“The main core of this revolution is Sarina and her generation,” Negin said. “A group that is fully aware of their rights, in touch with the world and very well aware of what they are being robbed of… They have no fear of [my] generation.”

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