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Iran 'morality police' under scrutiny after girl put in coma

Niloofar Gholami
October 5, 2023

Activists say a 16-year-old girl is in a coma at a Tehran hospital after being beaten on a subway. Journalists have been detained for attempting to gather information, and her family has been barred from visiting her.

A CCTV image of Tehran's metro
A clip from Tehran's metro CCTV shows Armita Geravand being pulled from a subway car shortly after boardingImage: Iranian state TV/AP/picture alliance

Activists in Iran have accused the country's "morality police" of beating a 16-year-old girl on Sunday at a metro station in Tehran, allegedly for not wearing a hijab headscarf.

Norway-based Kurdish human rights NGO "Hengaw" said Armita Geravand lost consciousness after the encounter, and is now in a coma. The girl is being treated at Tehran's Fajr Hospital, which belongs to the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force.

Strict security measures have been imposed at the facility, and the girl's family has not allowed to visit, activists said. Iranian officials have claimed the girl fainted, and released CCTV images of her being pulled from a subway train shortly after boarding.

Geravand's hospitalization, and isolation, at the military hospital have raised suspicion.

Shadows of Jina Mahsa Amini's death

The incident comes shortly after a grim anniversary marking the death of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini, who died on September 16, 2022 while in the custody of Iran's "morality police", allegedly after refusing to properly wear a hijab.

Amini's death sparked the largest anti-government demonstrations Iran has seen in a decade, which were spearheaded by young women.

Hundreds of people have been killed in violent confrontations with police during demonstrations.

Since then, Iranian authorities have cracked down on the families of victims, including not allowing family members to gather at grave sites.

On October 4, Geravand's father told Iran's Faraz Daily newspaper that he has little information about his daughter's condition.

"I haven't heard from Armita for several days. I only know that she is in a coma," Geravand's father told the newspaper.

His statements only increased speculation about the pressure the family could be facing from authorities. The article was removed from the website some hours later.

In the meantime, an unverified image said to be of Armita Geravand lying on a hospital bed has gone viral on social media.

Iranian state media quoted Tehran subway officials claiming that Geravand fainted due to "low blood pressure."

The fragmented video of the teenage girl being dragged unconscious out of the subway car has been published by government media.

However, CCTV footage from the moment Geravand entered the subway car with two of her friends has not been published yet. No video recording of the actual incident has been released.

Iran's "morality police" said in July they would resume foot patrols to enforce the mandatory wearing of headscarves. 

Iranian regime cover-up?

Iran's ruling regime appears to be following a pattern similar to the cover-up following the death of Amani last year. This includes putting pressure on families and friends of victims, as well as the media.

On Monday, a journalist with Iran's Sharq newspaper was detained by police forces for attempting to access to Fajr Hospital to report on Geravand's condition.

A day later, Iran's government news agency (IRNA) published a video of Geravand's mother nervously saying she saw footage from the subway's CCTV and doesn't think "what people are saying is true."

Iran tightens control of women's dress code

State media in Iran has a history of publishing similar statements. During nationwide protests last year, relatives of people who lost their lives appeared in the media to enforce the government's line, including the aunt of 16-year-old Nika Shakarami and the mother of 9-year-old Kian Pirfalak.

The two later admitted that their interviews on Iranian TV were recorded under coercion and pressure.

Many people in Iran have demanded the video footage of the incident involving Geravand to be released in full.

Reports by regime-friendly journalists in Iran have also tried to deny reports that Geravand was beaten by "morality police."

The Hamshahri newspaper, which is published by the municipality of Tehran, also published a story reporting that Geravand and her friends had been warned about not wearing a hijab, but claimed she had not been physically assaulted.

This newspaper, however, did not explain whether the government-backed story that the girl fainted due to low blood pressure followed the so-called verbal warning, which has led to more questions about what happened.

International outcry

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock reacted to the incident on X, formerly Twitter, saying it is "unbearable" that another young woman is fighting for her life in Iran merely for showing her hair in a subway. Baerbock emphasized that her family must have the right to be "at their daughter's bedside."

The Oslo-based NGO Iran Human Rights, has called for an independent international investigation into the events that led to Geravand's hospitalization, and emphasized that the Islamic Republic has a long history of "denial and concealing the crimes of its agents."

Edited by: Wesley Rahn