What really happened to Nika Shahkarami? Witnesses to her final hours cast doubt


A black-clad Iranian girl stands on top of an overturned garbage bin, waving her headscarf as it is engulfed by flames, amid chants of “death to the dictator.”

A moment later, video shows, she crouches to collect another scarf, from a friend, which she will also set on fire in front of the protesters.

The girl was 16-year-old Nika Shahkarami, from Tehran. A few hours after these scenes were recorded on September 20, in videos exclusively obtained and verified by CNN, Nika went missing. ​And more than one week later, her family learned that she was dead.

​Iranian authorities claimed Nika’s body was found at the back of a courtyard on the morning of September 21. ​Her mother wasn’t given access to identify her until 8 days later. CCTV footage released by the authorities timestamped just after midnight ​as September 20 ​became September 21 ​showed the figure of a masked person they said was Nika entering a building ​that was uninhabited, and still under construction in Tehran.

​A Tehran prosecutor initially said she died after being thrown from the building’s roof, and that her death “had no connection to the protests” of that day​, but despite apparently declaring her death a homicide, he did not say whether there were suspects under investigation. State broadcasters reported that she “fell,” but did not provide evidence to support the claim it was an accident.

On Wednesday, after CNN asked the government to comment on the evidence in this investigation, an Iranian media report quoted a Tehran prosecutor as saying that Nika’s death was a suicide. Iranian authorities still have not responded to CNN’s repeated inquiries about Nika’s death.​​

​Authorities never explained why Nika would enter that building on her own, and Nika’s mother has said she doesn’t believe the masked person is Nika. Her mother has said she believes Nika was killed by the authorities, but the authorities have never said whether Nika was in their custody at any point.

But dozens of videos and eyewitness accounts obtained exclusively by CNN indicate that Nika appears to have been chased and detained by Iranian security forces that night. One key eyewitness, Ladan, told CNN she saw Nika being taken into custody ​at the protest by “several large-bodied plainclothes security officers” who bundled her into a car.

Moments earlier, this witness, while stuck in Tehran traffic, filmed a video that purportedly shows Shahkarami ducking behind a white car and yelling “tekoon nakhor, tekoon nakhor” – which means “don’t move, don’t move” – to its driver before running away from the brief shelter it gave her.

Seven people who knew Nika and spoke to CNN confirmed it was her. The same footage, filmed at 8.37 p.m. on September 20, also shows anti-riot police on motorcycles, patrolling the area.

“I wanted to save her, but I couldn’t,” said Ladan. “There were about 20 or 30 Basijis on…

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