LONDON — Iranian authorities have been accused of stealing the bodies of slain protesters from hospitals and morgues to prevent families from holding funerals, which activists say could prove to be rallying points for protests.
The families of the protesters who were killed have called it a disturbing new intimidation tactic.
The United Nations has previously warned that the Iranian authorities have either refused to release the bodies or have made their release conditional on the silence of the families.
Iran has denied allegations of human rights abuses against protesters and accused Western nations of turning “peaceful assemblies into riots and violence”.
The family of 16-year-old protester Nika Shakarami says her body was stolen by government forces in October.
Reza Haghighatnejad, an Iranian dissident journalist, worked in Prague for years for the US-funded Iranian branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). He died of cancer in a Berlin hospital in October. When his body was flown home to Iran at the request of his family, his remains were not found at the airport, according to RFE.
According to the NGO Iran Human Rights, at least 448 people, including 60 children, have been killed since the protests began, although the real number is believed to be higher due to the difficulty of accessing death certificates.
The kidnappings have been particularly painful for families, who have been denied the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones. Sarah Haghighatnejad, sister of the late journalist, posted a video of her brother’s gravestone covered in flowers on her Twitter account. “Those who were even afraid of your lifeless body and didn’t give my mother and I a chance to say goodbye have to pay the price,” she said. he wrote.
“They are taking away from bereaved families the opportunity to say goodbye in peace to have the last word with their loved ones,” said Mehdi Tajik, a journalist and friend of Haghighatnejad. “They seize bodies to force families to say they weren’t killed by police or to force them to bury them without a funeral.”
Some families have responded by holding their dead or trying to get to the morgues where their loved ones are being held.
A protester, Mehran Samak, was killed as he celebrated Iran’s World Cup defeat against the United States on the streets of Anzali, a port city in the north of the country. His death sparked a rush by his family to retrieve Samak’s body from the morgue, as they feared he might be buried elsewhere by authorities in secret, a family friend told ABC News.
The family of 10-year-old Kian Piraflak, who was shot dead in Izeh, Khuzestan province, earlier this month, reportedly kept his body at home rather than a morgue for fear that he would be taken away. Social media videos have circulated showing women carrying buckets of ice, shouting “Ice! Ice for the children” to symbolically protest the pain families go through to protect and preserve the bodies of their slain loved ones.
“She was forced to build a mobile morgue for her son’s body,” an Iranian journalist with knowledge of the alleged thefts told ABC News. The journalist did not want to be named for security reasons. “The fact that a mother can’t even think of seeking justice for her son’s murder, and instead has to send people around to borrow ice so she can keep her son’s body cold at night it’s pure horror and anguish.”
Iran experts I said that the protests, which have united a wide range of Iranians, represent the greatest challenge the regime has faced since the 1979 Islamic revolution. In response, the authorities have pursued a deadly crackdown that has injured or killed hundreds and jailed thousands more.
Emma Ogao of ABC News contributed to this report