Iranian schoolgirl reportedly beaten to death for refusing to sing pro-regime anthem

Thursday, 20 October 2022 (12:21 IST)
Asra Panahi, 16, was a student from the city of Ardabil in northwestern Iran. Wider and fiercer protests erupted in the city following reports that the teenager from the Azeri ethnic minority died on Friday after she was beaten to death by security forces. 

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

Nevertheless, her death further fueled the public anger that was sparked by the recent death of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini after she was arrested by Iran's so-called morality police in Tehran for violating the Islamic Republic's strict dress code.

The Middle East nation has seen mass anti-regime protests nationwide in recent weeks.

What do we know about Panahi's death?

It's reported that Panahi died after security officials raided the Shahed girls high school in Ardabil on October 13 and ordered a group of girls to sing a song praising the Islamic Republic.

When some students refused to participate, they were severely beaten, leading to a number of them being taken to hospital. Panahi was also among them. On Friday, she reportedly died in hospital due to injuries sustained at the school.

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

News agencies close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, like Tasnim, quoted Panahi's uncle as saying the high school student had died of a heart problem.

But shortly afterwards, a screenshot appeared on the internet, showing that Panahi was a competitive athlete. At the age of 12, she came third in a regional swimming competition in her province.

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

"The truth is that she took her own life," the mayor of Ardebil was quoted as saying by the news portal Entekhab. "She had taken pills because she had family problems."

Three more schoolgirls dead because of police beating

Former national soccer player Ali Daei slammed Iranian authorities on Instagram, saying: "You are not telling the truth." Many Iranians share this view. Daei, who also played in the German Bundesliga for Arminia Bielefeld, Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin, is from Ardebil. "I know what happened in my city," the 53-year-old said.

This is not the first time authorities have tried to deny responsibility for the death of schoolgirls in the last four weeks.

"We have information showing that at least three more schoolgirls were killed by violent blows to their heads," Raha Bahreini, Iran expert at Amnesty International, told DW.

According to the rights watchdog, at least 23 minors were killed by the unlawful use of force during the protests between September 20 and 30.

Among those killed are 20 boys between 11 and 17 years old and three girls, one of whom was aged 17 and the other two were 16, Bahreini said. "Most of the boys died because the security forces shot at them unlawfully with live ammunition, often at close range. The three girls — Setareh Tajik, Sarina Esmailzadeh and Nika Shahkarami — had all suffered fatal blows to the head."

The childrens' families, however, have been pressured to say that their children died as a result of illness or suicide, she said.

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. Her family was forced to confirm it on state television.

But the victim's mother, in a video she sent to Persian-language media abroad, rejected the official explanation and said her daughter was killed by Iranian security forces at a protest.

"The security forces are doing everything they can to exonerate themselves," her mother Nasrin said in the video.

Schoolgirls challenge the Islamic regime

Schoolgirls have been at the forefront of the latest round of anti-regime protests gripping the country, presenting a huge challenge to the Islamic clerical establishment. Students have been organizing protests in schools, taking off their hijabs and chanting anti-government slogans. Pictures and videos of their demonstrations have been going viral on the internet.

To curb the protests, security forces have been raiding schools since last week. Often informed by school administrators, plainclothes officers appear suddenly, force their way into classrooms and forcibly arrest schoolgirls.

In some cases, tear gas is also being used in schools. In a statement released on Sunday, the Iranian Teachers Union condemned the "brutal and inhumane" raids on schools and confirmed news of the violent arrests and deaths of schoolgirls.

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