Beaten, run-over and shot: damning evidence of Iran’s police brutality confirmed on tape
A brutal video appears online. The victim is beaten, run over by a motorcycle, and then shot at short range. Members of the Iranian parliament immediately discredit the footage as fake. But it’s real. Against all odds of police brutality, the person survives the attack. An open source (OSINT) investigation analyses the brutal attack involving a dozen police, including a senior officer.
21st of September, 2022 was a warm day in Tehran. After 6pm the thermometers still showed stuffy 23 to 26 degrees Celsius. Heat was also on the streets, in the various neighborhoods of the city and its 9 million citizens. Only a few days ago, on September 16th, the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini dies after police locked her in a cell.
She had been detained for allegedly not wearing her hijab in accordance with government standards. Many Iranians became angry and sad about her death. Those who dared marching against a murderous regime, put themselves in mortal dangers. The police shot at protesters with live ammunition, as several posts on social media show.
A series of tragic deaths all over the country followed, including two dozen children. Amin Maarofi, 16, is shot in the head by security agents in Oshnavieh, in the West Azerbaijan Province that day. Another 16-year-old Amir Ali Fuladi gets shot by security agents in Eslamabad-e Gharb. In the Tehran neighborhood of Nazi Abat dies a few days later another 16-year-old. Another heatshot by security forces. Police forces aim intentionally at the face and eyes of protesters.
The 21st of September 2022 should actually be a day of celebration. The UN called it the “International Day of Peace”, with the UN General Assembly devoting it to “strengthening the ideals of peace” by asking for 24 hours “non-violence and cease-fire”. The Iranian opposition coalition NCRI and President-elect Maryam Rajavi (who critics consider not to represent the opposition) used the occasion to condemn the mullahs’ regime and motivates people to take “meaningful action to help the Iranian people in their ongoing uprising”. But instead, a brutal crackdown on protesters and free speech took place and video footage from across the country painfully corroborated this.
September 21st was the day with the most recorded riots and one of the most deadly days for protesters, according to publicly available data and reported news. Data by the International Protest Database ACLED illustrate the surge after Aminis death and the peak of turmoil on Iran’s streets. The data also suggests that the deadliest region was Sistan and Baluchestan, and especially the city Zahedan, where over a hundred fatalities were recorded. The majority of involved actors perpetrating the deadly attacks are the Police Forces of Iran (ruling since 1989).
DATA: Already at the beginning of October numbers on fatalities by the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights surfaced claiming that Iranian government forces killed what has been merely a few weeks 201 protesters, including 23 minors, since the unrest broke out on Sept. 16 following the death of Mahsa Amini. At the end of December, the number surged to 529 killed protesters (Data by ACLED, analysis: TJ)
A video that stands for the wave of police brutality since September
This investigation can confirm that one video (see below), which went viral more than a month and a half after it was captured, on November 1st, 2022 — by a social activist on Twitter — is indeed genuine. The incident took place at the height of the protests, at a time when the most number of riots were measured and around the period when the most deaths were recorded among protesters.
International media outlets, including the BBC and CNN, picked up on it. Millions of people viewed the footage recorded from a roof terrace. All over the world people took notice. Interviews with human rights experts were arranged and broadcasted. Organizations like Amnesty International expressed solidarity, saying that “another horrific reminder that the cruelty of Iran’s security forces knows no bounds”. They agreed: the devastating scenes of the video showing the brutal crackdown on an unarmed demonstrator in the video stands for the many brutal attacks on human rights and free speech in Iran.
The only problem was: They all failed to bring evidence that this video was real and took place at the time after Aminis death. Most of the reports by international media came with the distinct disclaimer that they “could not immediately verify the footage”.
In a small team of OSINT investigators and journalists, we verified the footage, confirmed witness accounts, found the exact location and cross referenced the day. We came to the conclusion that it’s genuine. We found that violent riots took place at the end of September 2022, on a street on the southern border of Tehran’s Nazi Abad district. Some of the perpetrators attacking the victim — we will call him Reza* — wore police uniforms. A commander was also present. The scene was filmed from a rooftop terrace of a new building.
Iranian MPs called the amateur footage a fake. After the open source evidence were collected, we also got in touch with a witness to verify the footage.
We see Reza being kicked, beaten with truncheons, run over by a motorbike and finally shot in the face. Our investigation shows that the footage dates from a month and a half earlier at the posting date of the footage on social media platform Twitter. On 21 September, the Iranian protests were at their peak, and it was on that day that the video was shot.
The tumultuous footage shows at least 11 men punching and kicking Reza. We recognize the protective clothing of the Iranian riot police (in yellow) and the uniform of a police commander (in red).
The motorbike used to run over Reza, is a white Honda CBX 750, a standard vehicle model used by the Iranian police in Tehran. It weights between 215 and 240 kg. We assume that at such weight — several times of that of the victim — applied with force, could crack bones and cause severe injuries. We compared the vehicles (left) with the video (right). According to an Iranian police spokesperson, an investigation is said to have been opened. Any result of it remains unknown.
At the end of the video, the battered Reza remains lying lifeless on the ground. We found one photograph (center) that was taken shortly after the incident. His battered body has been moved. The distinct tiles, visible in the photo, match those of the spot where he was attacked. The photo was taken nearby.
Photos of the victim (left) are circulating on social media. After verification, these do fit the bill: The logo on his T-shirt and the camouflage pattern of his trousers (green) match.
Reza* is a 30-year-old engineer who loves Bollywood films. He is not politically active. That he survived the attack, he attributes to “a miracle or his parents’ prayers”. For the severe gunshot wound to the face, he received plastic surgery at a private hospital in Tehran. Another specialist hospital treated his comminuted fracture on his hand.
We show the images to the head of the department of forensic medicine at the University hospital, in Leuven, Belgium. The expert commented that ‘the large wound on the left cheek looks like a graze with a projectile, possibly a bullet”. The soot on the back of the ear would suggest that it was shot at close range. The open wound on the chin could also be a laceration wound resulting from a blow with an object.
The large wound in his face is consistent with the shot we see in the video. At Minute 2:06, a police officer in full gear is seen firing at least one round from a black shotgun. This is also consistent with the reports surfacing on police use of force. According to Iran HMR, a human rights organization, shotguns used in the recent protests by Iran’s security forces were usually Pump-Action M2 and Benelli M2/M4, caliber 12 shotguns.
According reporting by IranWire (which also discussing the incident in our video), three types of shotguns are used by police: birdshots, buckshots and slugs. Each with a different degree of damage to the body or face when fired at a short distance. “Using a slug in such a short distance would result in death or amputation”, they write in regard to a short range shot reported by BBC Persian. Slug cause cuts, breaks bones or cuts off limbs and frequently cause exist wounds, the authors referenced.
Two types of shotguns are carried by Iran’s forces. One are the long shotguns with fixed buttstocks. Those would usually be the Yuz model. Khorasan Shahid Kaveh Industries make them, a subsidiary of Iran’s Ministry of Defense. A likely model in our indident (but not untimately IDed) is the Karatay 612 HD, made by the Turkish firm Akkar, which was subject of promotional material from Iran’s police units. Another alternative, the semi-automatic model Escort MPA-TS, is made by HATSAN, another Turkish company. Which exact shotgun was used here, we can’t confirm.
Neither could we find out whether Reza was shot with rubber, plastic or metal bullets. In each case, their use raises human rights questions. A United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) document containing ‘guidelines for less lethal weapons in law enforcement’ states that none of these bullets ‘should be aimed at the head, face or neck’ (p. 36). From the video footage, we find clear indication that this stipulation was violated.
Aiming at the face fits the bill of the brutal Iranian police force cracking down on unarmed protesters, reports show. Staff at Hospital reported a drastic surge in injuries to protesters’ eyes. The Iranian Human Rights Organization from Norway collected evidence and concluded that during the suppression of the recent protests, state agents of the Islamic Republic systematically targeted eyes with their weapons. A report by the New York Times from November spoke of hundreds of people injured to peoples’ eyes.
On 26 January 2023, Reza posts a brave video on his Instagram account (screenshot left). He ventures back to the place where he was attacked by the police.
In his emotion message to fellow Iranians, he questions why exactly he was subject to the attack: ‘Why did they do this to me? After a few months, I can walk properly again, the fracture on my hand and even the deep facial wound have healed, but the questions in my head remain unanswered. […]
“Death gained strength before my eyes, the blows from the batons were painful, the band of the motorbike on my chest stopped my breathing […]
“He shot at me with a shotgun […] to defend myself I could only turn my head, and then the bullet went through my face and tore open. I screamed that it was over. At that moment, in my heart, I thought of my mother and you, of the girl to whom I promised a thousand times to be her support.”
“Two years have passed since her brother died of corona. I thought of my family and friends, how much they would miss me…. How much I wanted to see them.”
“Nazi Abad is the place where I was reborn and every time I pass this street, I think of all the people who were unjustly and innocently burnt in this big fire. Did they think of seeing their loved ones again? […] [This message is] in memory of all the innocents buried underground or who no longer have a voice to be heard.”
Rezas response may be an example of how a victim is not to be easily intimidated. At least not online. His almost poetically written post, starts with: “They say the criminal always returns to the scene of the crime… I came back to find none of them, none of them with a baton in hand”.
It also shows that not only Aminis death (but also Rezas attack video) inspire further unrest among protesters. While the video undoubtedly provoked public anger online — the first instance of the video shared by social activist Masih Alinejad was viewed more than 1 million times — it could have caused tension offline, too.
One online social media commentator predicted one day after the video emerged, that “Naziabad and Fallah will probably be stormy tonight! Women and girls have agreed to come out to support Reza* and I hope the men will join them with the zeal of Naziabad!”.
Another response to the video came from trolls who called it fake. Possible devotees to the regime spread doubts in comments. One such comment on an article message board on the news website Aftabnews.ir read: “These scenes are filmed, photoshopped and worked by America to make the police look brutal”.
However, others shut those comments down by posting: “So many videos and proofs have been published in the past one or two months that it is ridiculous to deny them.”
Despite all the pain Reza had to endure, there is no sign of given up. He is filing a complaint against the police. His lawyer pursues the case, and informed the police about the follow-up of the complaint. Meanwhile, Reza remains intentionally vague about more details. He only says that after a few months, he was finally able to walk well again. He is careful. Maybe scared police could knock again on his door. It took months for his deep facial wound to heal. The question of why they singled him out remains unanswered to this very day: “Why did they do that to me?”
*Reza is a pseudonym.
**This investigation is a collaboration of investigative journalists Anneleen van Kuyck, Archit Mehta (Alt News), Ben Heubl, Brecht Castel (Knack) and Kalim Ahmed (Alt News).
The video of police violence that came online on 1 November 2022 is real. We could find out that the violence took place on 21 September 2022 on a street in Tehran’s Nazi Abad district. Some perpetrators wore police uniforms; a commander was also present. We rate the images as true.
The article contains links to all sources used. All sources were last accessed on 15 February 2023.
Background: Why Nazi Abad?
Nazi Abad is a large neigbourhood in the south of Tehran. According to Iran observers, the DNA of Nazi Abad may help to answer why what happened happened. It is a rather deprived working class neighborhood, one source says, who is familiar with Tehran’s district. According to Maryam, who lives abroad but still has Family in Iran, Nazi Abad is a poor and strictly Muslim conservative religious part of town.
“When people started to even taking it to the streets in Nazi Abad, we were all surprised”, says Maryam, who often works with Human Right organizations on police brutality cases in Iran. Only a stone throw down the street where Reza was encircled by police we find the mosque Lovers of Al-Mahdi on Google Maps.
Security is tight in district 16 and Nazi Abad. Many of the member of the Basiji forces, a special police force that Myriam likens with Iran’s local goon squad, both live and work in Nazi Abad. Members of the Basiji force live in run-down apartment buildings. “If there is trouble”, Myriam says, “they are coming out immediately and attack”.
The profile of Basiji fits the profile of the neigbourhood. These represent mostly young men, with a lower degree of education and they are easily influenceable. They make the core of the members of Basiji. Why there were so many police — most in uniform, some not, as we identified — at the scene may have various reasons. One could be the short distance to the next police station, only a 3 minutes walk away, called Police +10. Local Basiji members live also close. Then they were the local protests on the tragic night of September 21, 2022. These were unprecedented. Most, if not all, local police officers were on high alert and out and about.
Illegal to film, but more criticism from abroad
In order to make sure no one can retrace the police brutality and keep a record, the officers chased and punished people filming the violence by the government. It may have contributed to the fact that the video of Reza was leaked six weeks after it was shot.
While filming out of a car on Sept 22, one day after the incident in Nazi Abad, Iranian woman Shirin Alizadeh was shot dead by gunfire on protesters near a security forces base in Charlus, Mazandaran Province, Iran. Police and government knows that if a video, like the one in Nazi Abad, goes viral, there will be even people in the streets, explains Myriam. “They make sure you don’t film”. Myriam, who looked at the Nazi Abad video closely, thinks that the person who filmed remains in danger. “Its illegal”.
A week after Rezas video was filmed, the Iran’s prosecutor issues harsher orders, a new directive, to punish protesters. The Persian media outlet Iran International, headquartered in London and owned by the UK firm Volant Media keeps reporting critically on the regimes’ behaviour.