Iranian girl, 16, in coma after ‘attack by morality police’

Armita Garawand was reportedly badly injured in a 'severe physical assault' by female morality police officers on the Tehran metro
Armita Garawand was reportedly badly injured in a 'severe physical assault' by female morality police officers on the Tehran metro

A 16-year-old Iranian girl is in a coma and is being treated in hospital under heavy security after allegedly being attacked by Tehran’s morality police for not wearing a headscarf.

Hengaw, a Kurdish-focused rights group, said Armita Garawand was badly injured in a “severe physical assault” by female morality police officers on the Tehran metro.

The incident has set Iran on edge, with many in the country seeing parallels to the case of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman whose death in the custody of the morality police sparked a nationwide protest movement.

The protests, which lasted for several months, rattled Iran’s clerical leadership and only dwindled in the face of a crackdown that, according to activists, has led to thousands being arrested and hundreds killed.

Hengaw claimed that Ms Garawand was left with serious injuries after being apprehended at the Shohada metro station in the Iranian capital on Sunday.

It said she was being treated under tight security at Tehran’s Fajr Air Force hospital and “there are currently no visits allowed for the victim, not even from her family”.

The Iranian authorities have denied that the security forces were involved and claimed that Ms Gawarand “fainted” due to low blood pressure, leading her to hit the side of the train carriage.

A screen capture from a video purportedly showing Armita Garawand being carried unconscious from a metro train in Tehran
A screen capture from a video purportedly showing Armita Garawand being carried unconscious from a metro train in Tehran

Ms Garawand hails from the city of Kermanshah, in Kurdish-populated western Iran, but is a resident of Tehran, said Hengaw.

The case has become the subject of intense discussion on social media, with a video purporting to show the incident being shared widely

The grainy footage appears to show Ms Garawand being pushed into the metro by female police agents before being carried out, apparently unconscious, by her friends.

Masood Dorosti, managing director of the Tehran subway system, denied there was “any verbal or physical conflict” between the student and “passengers or metro executives”.

“Some rumours about a confrontation with metro agents ... are not true and CCTV footage refutes this claim,” Mr Dorosti told state news agency IRNA.

In August, Alireza Zakani, Tehran’s mayor, launched new patrols to ensure headscarf-wearing rules were being followed on the capital’s metro system.

Since then, there have been numerous reports of officers becoming involved in violent confrontations with women who refuse to wear the hijab.

The IranWire news site, based outside Iran, cited a source as saying she had sustained a “head injury” after being pushed by the officers.

Ms Garawand was in a critical condition when she arrived at the hospital on Sunday morning with “weak vital signs”, IranWire reported, citing a source inside the hospital.

Parents deny girl was attacked

Fars, the Iranian government’s official news agency, published an interview with Ms Garawand’s parents, who denied she was attacked.

“We have checked all the videos and it has been proven for us that this incident was an accident. We request people to pray for our child’s recovery,” the girl’s father is heard saying.

During the crackdown on protests over Amini’s death, the Iranian authorities released interviews in which relatives of those killed or hurt by the security forces appeared to have been coerced into speaking.

Maryam Lotfi, a journalist from the Shargh daily newspaper, sought in the aftermath of the incident to visit the hospital but was immediately detained. She was subsequently released, it added.

A year after Amini’s death, Iranian authorities have launched a renewed push to crack down on women defying the Islamic republic’s strict dress rules for women, including the mandatory hijab.

The New York-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said women and girls “face increased violence, arbitrary arrests and heightened discrimination after the Islamic Republic reactivated its forced-veiling police patrols”.