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Iran protests: Bereaved families prevented from mourning loved ones move their memorials online | World News

When protests erupted in Iran in September, the message from 26-year-old Mohammed Hassan Torkaman was one of defiance.

“Personally, if I see at least one symbolic protest in Babol, I will support it,” he wrote on Twitter.

The nature-loving student was shot dead by security forces during a demonstration just two days later – protests erupted over the death of a young woman detained by police who was arrested for “wrong wearing the hijab”.

Months later, his family says the authorities are still after them, trying to silence them about what happened. It’s an experience that human rights experts say is typical of those whose loved ones have died as a result of state violence in Iran.

However, for some families, such as the family of Mohammad Hasan, silence is unacceptable. And social networks give them the opportunity to perpetuate the memory of the dead and achieve justice.

Story of Mohammad Hassan Torkaman


Mohammad Hassan was a typical 26 year old. He loved nature and could often be found in the woods with his friends. He, too, was fascinated by the cosmos, covering his house with posters of stars and distant galaxies.

His fluffy white Persian cat Pashmak was his pride and joy.

Mohammed Hassan and his cat Pashmak.  Photo: Twitter
Mohammed Hassan and his cat Pashmak. Photo: Twitter

His brother says he was a calm, kind man with great ambitions.

“He had big ideas and wanted to make an impact in the future,” his brother said.

Mohammed Hassan moved to Babol five years ago to study at the university. So on September 21st, his family in Shahin Shahr, Isfahan, did not know that he had come out to protest.

It wasn’t until they received an excited phone call from one of his friends that they realized something terrible had happened.

“I was in a terrible state of shock, so I remember everything as a nightmare,” his brother said.

A friend told them that he called Mohammad Hassan after he did not show up at home as expected. Eventually an unknown voice came up and said that Mohammad Hasan had been shot.

His father, a veteran and former prisoner of war during the Iran-Iraq conflict, was so shocked by the news that he suffered a stroke and ended up in intensive care.

His brother says that when he went to the morgue to see Mohammad Hasan’s body, he saw a bullet wound in his head.

For three days, the authorities refused to release the body and did so only on the condition that the family remain silent about where he was shot and hold a funeral under the strictest security.

Even then, their ordeal was far from over.

“The activities of the third and seventh days took place under the close attention of agents,” his brother said.

On the 40th day of the ceremony, the situation escalated.

“They were attacked by members of law enforcement agencies, police in civilian clothes using stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets, paintballs and batons. Many were arrested and injured,” his brother said.

Several months have now passed since the death of Mohammad Hasan and the memorial gatherings that followed. But relatives say the authorities are still persecuting them.

“We are more or less threatened, we are watched and controlled, some days they follow us, some nights they are on duty near our house,” his brother said.

Digital memorialization

Azadeh Pourzand, a human rights researcher at SOAS University of London, explains that the Iranian authorities have had experience treating the families of those who have been killed by the state in this way because they fear the possible repercussions of the killing.

“It’s funny that a regime is as strong with its state violence as a repressive regime, but is afraid of the corpses it creates,” she told Sky News.

“There is nothing new about the fact that the burial ceremonies of victims of state violence are disrupted in this way. This is being used as a tool to further harass and coerce families,” she said.

Azadeh says that over the years, this meant that the only cases that attracted attention were those in which the victim was already publicly known or had a certain social status. Thus, human rights organizations such as the Abdorrahman Borumand Center were largely left to document the stories of everyone else who died at the hands of the state.

Since 2002, the center has run the Omid Memorial Project, which is a digital archive of all those who have been killed by the state and acts as an online memorial.

“The mission of the project is to ensure that the memory of all victims of the violation of the right to life by the state, the recognition by society of the harm caused to them and their loved ones, to help begin the process of their healing in the absence of justice,” Roya said. Borumand, manager of the center.

However, the advent of social media means that people can now do it themselves in ways that were previously inaccessible to them. This means that social media pages dedicated to the memory of those killed in Iran are becoming more common on the Internet.

Many of these accounts belong to family members of the victims. Three months after Mohammad Hassan’s death, two of his relatives set up Twitter pages that post almost exclusively about Mohammad Hassan every day. Now they have over 27,000 followers.

This digital image of Mohammed Hassan has been shared on pages dedicated to his memory and on social media.
This digital image of Mohammed Hasan was shared on pages dedicated to his memory and on social media.

The posts include photographs of Mohammad Hasan as a child, as well as his tombstone and memorial shrine. Many include jokes about Mohammad Hasan and calls for justice.

According to data compiled by the social platform TalkWalker, the hashtag with the full name of Mohammad Hassan in Farsi, which appears in each of the posts, has been shared on Twitter more than 143,000 times.

One of the posts published in memory of Mohammed Hasan, which was originally written in Farsi, describes how the cemetery where he is buried was blocked by security agents.
One of the posts in memory of Mohammed Hasan, which was originally written in Farsi, describes how the cemetery where he is buried was blocked by security agents.

“It is my duty and the duty of my family to be the voice of my brother’s unjustly spilled blood. My father was the one who stood in front of the Iraqi soldiers and defended his country. We learned courage from him,” said Mohammad Hassan’s brother.

Other accounts dedicated to perpetuating the memory of all the dead have also appeared.

One page was originally created to pay tribute to the 1,500 protesters killed in 2019. The account now creates and posts monuments to those who died during the recent protests and those who were executed. He has 27,000 followers on Instagram and another 7,000 on Twitter.

“The Iranian government wants these things not to be mentioned at all, not to be heard at all. The government media generally deny this,” the page’s operator told Sky News.

“I am the voice of their grieving families,” they said.

“What we are seeing here is massive archiving and memorialization,” Azadeh Pourzand said.

She explains that these memorials also aim to achieve justice for those who have died.

“The ultimate goal is this: we are not going to forget and we are not going to forgive. We will not allow the blood of our loved ones to be shed. We will keep her, we will remember and we are going to seek justice,” she told Sky News.

Data and forensics team is a multidisciplinary team dedicated to providing transparent journalism to Sky News. We collect, analyze and visualize data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite imagery, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling, we aim to better explain the world as well as show how our journalism is done.

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