Asra Panahi Khanghah
Asra Panahi was an avid swimmer and competed at the local and provincial levels. She won third place (bronze) in the 50m and 100m freestyle during individual competition (11-12 year old age group) held at Abadgaran Pool, in Tabriz. Her team also won bronze in the 4x50m competition at the same event. In 2017, Asra became the top swimmer under the age of 12 in the women’s swimming league of East Azarbaijan province. In September 2018, she went on to represent East Azarbaijan province in the national swimming Olympiad for her age group.
On October 12, 2022, now a teenager, Asra Panahi was killed in the city of Ardabil during demonstrations following Mahsa Amini’s death. She was among a group of students at Shahed Girls High School who reportedly refused to join a pro-government demonstration. The girls were forced to attend the rally and to sing "Salam Farmandeh", a propaganda song created by the Islamic Republic. The students were reportedly beaten by plainclothes (Basij) security forces who were sent to the school. Asra died at Fatemi Hospital in Ardabil after sustaining severe injuries.
Death of Asra Panahi
Panahi was killed on October 12, 2022, after plainclothes forces stormed the Shahed Girls High School in Ardabil. Officials from the school had attempted to force the students to participate in a pro-government demonstration where they were to sing "Salam Farmandeh," a romantic song praising Ali Khamenei. Some schoolgirls refused to participate in response to the killing of Mahsa Amini. A parent of one of the students said that teachers and students were chanting "death to the dictator." Plainclothes security forces were summoned by the school officials and they proceeded to attack the students. These teenage girls were reportedly beaten, 12 of them being sent rushed to hospital. In addition to those injured and sent to hospital, 10 were arrested. Panahi was among the 12 students who had been taken to Fatemi Hospital following the attack. She died due to severe injuries including internal bleeding.
The death of Panahi became a rallying cry for demonstrations, especially in Ardabil, with demonstrators demanding the end of the Islamic Republic. Large-scale demonstrations and rallies were held in Ardabil following Panahi's death on October 15, 2022. Officials have disputed the circumstances of Panahi's death. The Dana news network, linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, aired a video of an interview with a masked man who said he was Panahi's uncle. He said Panahi had a congenital heart condition and died in the middle of the night after being taken to the hospital, emphasizing that her death was "not related to any rally or rebellion." Iranian government officials and government news agencies continued to claim that Panahi had a heart disease. Her uncle gave an interview that has been publicized on state television to declare her death was caused by a heart problem, and not due to an attack by security forces. Similar forced interviews have been seen by relatives of Nika Shakarami and Sarina Esmailzadeh. The parliament member for Ardabil, Kazem Musavi, has gone on to claim that Panahi died by suicide.
Hassan Ameli, a member of the Iranian Assembly of Experts and Imam Jumu'ah of Ardabil, said in an interview that the students should not have been taken to the Salam Farmandeh ceremony in Ardabil without the permission of their parents. He denied that Panahi was killed by security forces and supported the claim that she died naturally.
The Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association initially reported that Panahi's death occurred due to the attack of plainclothes security forces at the school. However, hours after their report, they amended their statement to say that they could neither confirm nor deny the death of a student.
Ali Daei, a former Iranian football player and manager, said: "Silence caused by the government's pressure against the protests and desecration of the students of the Sharif University of Technology, where I have developed my scientific and knowledge base, led today to the attack on innocent students in the schools of Ardabil. It has led to the beating of these young students and bloodshed among my other daughters in my hometown of Ardabil. This silence has the price of death, and every day puts another dagger in the heart of Iran, which is a betrayal of humanity and of my country."
New Details Contradict Official Iranian Claims Over Teen’s Death During School Protest
“Iranian officials have denied that security forces beat the students and have said that Asra Panahi died in a hospital on October 14”.
New details about the death of Iranian teenager Asra Panahi have emerged, contradicting the Iranian government's statement that the official cause of death was heart disease. Panahi reportedly died of her injuries after being beaten for refusing to sing a pro-regime anthem when agents raided her school.
According to the Coordinating Council of Teachers Syndicates (CCTS), authorities from the city of Ardabil took students from Shahed High School to a pro-government demonstration. They asked them to sing an anthem that praises Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
After the pupils resisted, the security forces attacked the students verbally and physically, beating many of the students with batons. Security forces arrested ten students and transported them to an unknown location, while twelve others were injured.
Iranian officials have denied that security forces beat the students and have said Panahi died in hospital on October 14, 2022, days after the attack on her high school. They have since given conflicting causes of death, initially saying it was from congenital heart disease and later suicide. But the CCTS says it has confirmed that Panahi died the same day government forces attacked the school.
Furthermore, eyewitnesses and relatives have confirmed to RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Panahi was taken to a hospital after being beaten, died there, and was buried in a cemetery in Ardabil.
Officials have also had Panahi's uncle, Ali Panahi, give several interviews backing up their claims on the cause of death, but several relatives said these statements were made under duress.
Another family member was shown on state TV repeating the story made by officials saying that her death had nothing to do with the attack on high schoolers. This scenario of government officials spreading false information and trying to cover up the killings of innocent young Iranians is all but too familiar. The unrest, sparked by the death of another young woman, Mahsa Amini, swept across the country over a month prior. Amini died while in police custody in September after being detained for allegedly for failing to properly wear a hijab. Eyewitness reports said the 22-year-old was beaten while in police custody, however the authorities official statement was that she died of "underlying diseases." Former Iranian soccer star Ali Daei, also from Ardabil, has challenged Iranian lawmakers to tell the truth about what is happening in the country and for them to be held accountable after Kazem Musavi, the representative of Ardabil in parliament, denied Panahi's death was caused by being beaten by security forces. "History has proven who the liars are," said Daei, a former forward with German soccer giants Bayern Munich and the former Iranian national team captain. Security forces have waged a violent crackdown on protesters around the country, killing hundreds.
Image Source: 1500TASVIR
Image caption:Opposition activist collective 1500tasvir posted a photo showing Shahed High School.
A statement from the Ardabil Teachers' Union, posted by the Coordinating Council of Teachers Syndicates on Telegram, accused authorities of illegally forcing girls at Shahed High School in Ardabil to take part in a pro-government event on Wednesday, October 12, 2022, at which they were ordered to perform an anthem that praises the supreme leader. “At the beginning of the event, several students started chanting against the government, prompting male and female security personnel in plain clothes to insult and beat many of them,” the statement said. Adding that, “Later, once the students had returned to their classrooms, they raided the school and beat some of the students again. Seven students were injured, and ten were arrested.
The continued on to say that Asra Panahi was among those who were injured and that she died later in the hospital.
Her death has triggered protests by residents of Ardabil since Saturday, October 15, 2022. Videos posted on social media have shown a crowd chanting "Freedom, Freedom, Freedom" and security forces clashing with stone-throwing protesters. Other videos posted online have shown protesters removing their headscarves and waving them in the air, confronting male officials, and shouting slogans like "Woman, life, freedom" and "Death to the dictator" - a reference to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a Shia Muslim cleric who has final say on all state matters. Some protesters have also been filmed tearing up photographs of the Ayatollah.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda and By David Gritten, BBC News