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Death of Iranian teenager Sarina Esmaeilzadeh galvanizes protesters

Sarina Esmaeilzadeh, 16, loved sharing her life with the online world. On her video blog, the charismatic teenager sang, danced, cooked, put on makeup and celebrated the end of exams. On September 22, Esmaeilzadeh went to join protests sweeping the country and was beaten to death by Iranian security forces, according to rights groups.

While her case has drawn attention online, Iranian authorities denied responsibility on Friday, saying she took her own life by jumping from a roof. But the details of Esmaeilzadeh’s death in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran, are part of a wider pattern of security forces targeting, arresting and, in some cases, killing minors as the uprising anti-government in Iran is entering its fourth week.

Esmaeilzadeh ‘died after being severely beaten in the head with truncheons’, according to Amnesty International, which reported her death on September 30 and said she was one of at least 52 people killed by security forces until September 25, an account later corroborated. by other advocacy groups.

On his blog, Esmaeilzadeh sometimes laments the discrimination women face in Iran. Teenagers “need freedom” to lead a good life, she said in a video posted May 22. forbidden access to sports stadiums. Iranians could expect “nothing more” from the government than welfare benefits, she said.

“20 years ago, apart from us, we hadn’t seen any other teenagers,” Esmaeilzadeh told the camera, wearing a colorful shirt with cartoon prints. “And it’s only natural that as a human being you go to the best option.”

The case of Esmaeilzadeh is strangely similar to that of Nika Shakarami, 16, also died during protests last month. Her family claim she was killed by security forces after burning a hijab, while Iranian authorities claim she fell from a roof. Shakarami’s death and apparent attempts to cover it up and intimidate her family fueled further outrage.

It was the unexplained death of another young woman, Mahsa Amini, 22, in the custody of Iran’s vice police that sparked the first nationwide protests in mid-September. Despite a violent crackdown and internet shutdowns, popular unrest has continued, posing the biggest challenge to Iran’s religious leaders for several years.

“I can see that the protests have spread after the increase in killings, especially with the killing of Nika and Sarina,” said Negin, a 36-year-old high school art teacher in Tehran who joined the protests. , at the Washington Post. She spoke on the condition that only her first name be used to protect her safety.

Negin said a male relative of hers initially dismissed the protests as “a bunch of spoiled kids making a mess”. But he was deeply saddened by the death of Esmaeilzadeh, which he compared to Iran losing a great poet.

Iranian censorship and reporting restrictions make casualty numbers difficult to verify, but rights groups have identified more than two dozen children who have been killed in protests. Many miners lived in long-marginalized regions of Iran, including the provinces of Kurdistan and Balochistan, where state repression has been most severe.

Esmaeilzadeh reportedly went to demonstrate on September 22 with several friends after school. She didn’t come back that night.

News of Esmaeilzadeh’s death and videos from his blog soon began circulating online. A video of the teenager singing a song from the Irish musician Hozier contacted the singer on Friday, he said.

“We talk about freedoms without understanding what it means to pay the ultimate price fighting for them,” Hozier tweeted. “This brave girl was only 16 in the world…”

Under pressure, Iranian authorities said on Friday the teenager took his own life by jumping from a five-story building. State television also aired an interview with Esmaeilzadeh’s mother, who said her daughter had previously attempted suicide using pills. She confirmed the official cause of death.

But Iran has a long history of coercing confessions and airing them on state television, rights groups say. Shakarami’s mother said her family had been pressured into making false claims about her daughter’s death.

State television was then briefly hacked on Saturday by a group calling itself “Adalat Ali”, or Ali’s Justice. The hackers interrupted a news bulletin with slogans in support of the protests and photos of slain protesters, including Esmaeilzadeh.

“The main nucleus of this revolution is Sarina and her generation,” Negin said. “A group fully aware of its rights, in contact with the world and which knows very well what it is deprived of. … They are not afraid of [my] generation.”