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Iranian activists accuse morality police of assault after teenage girl hospitalized

By Mostafa Salem, Teele Rebane, Sahar Akbarzai and Jomana Karadsheh, CNN

(CNN) — Activists have accused Iran’s morality police of assaulting a teenage girl for not wearing a headscarf in a Tehran metro station, leading to her hospitalization with serious injuries.

A Norway-based group focused on Kurdish rights, the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, said Wednesday that 16-year-old Armita Geravand was “assaulted” by morality police and has been in a coma since Sunday. Another opposition network, IranWire, said it had obtained information that Geravand was admitted to the hospital with “head trauma.”

“Prior to her arrival at the Shohada metro station, female morality police officers approached her and requested that she adjust her hijab. This request resulted in an altercation with the morality police officers physically assaulting Geravand. She was pushed, leading to her collapse,” Hengaw staffer Awyer Shekhi told CNN.

“Following this confrontation, she managed to enter the metro, but collapsed later on,” Shekhi added.

CNN could not verify the information published by Hengaw and Iranwire, who have in the past covered Iranian protests extensively.

Iranian authorities have denied the allegations, saying she was hospitalized due an injury caused by low blood pressure. Geravand’s friends and family echoed those denials in interviews with state media.

The allegations come just weeks after the one-year death anniversary of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman who died in the custody of the morality police after being arrested for allegedly not wearing her headscarf properly. That event sparked some of the biggest protests the country has witnessed in decades, prompting the regime to double down on policing activism and further tighten hijab laws.

In security camera footage posted on the website of state-run IRNA news agency, a group of girls are seen entering the train. CNN cannot identify which girl in the video was Geravand.

Some of the girls appeared to not be wearing headscarves.

Moments later, the video goes on to show a group of girls carrying the teenager out of the train, placing her on the platform as the train leaves the station.

No altercation can be seen on the edited video posted on state media. CNN has been unable to confirm its authenticity.

The chief of Tehran Metro said there was no physical or verbal interaction between Geravand and members of his staff.

“According to our investigation, after reviewing the CCTV footage from the moment she entered the station and got on the train, there was no verbal or physical altercation between the passengers with them or our staff. There was nothing recorded on the videos,” Tehran Metro Managing Director Masoud Dorosti told state media.

The teenager is currently being treated at a hospital in Tehran, Fars News Agency reported. IranWire reported that she is being treated at Fajr Air Force Hospital, in a separate statement it published on Wednesday.

A journalist from Iranian pro-reform outlet Shargh Daily had gone to Fajr Air Force Hospital to report on Geravand’s condition when she was arrested on Tuesday, according to a post Shargh Daily on X. The reporter, Maryam Lotfi, has since been released, the outlet reported.

‘Low blood pressure’

Geravand’s mother and father told state media in an interview that their daughter seemed to hit her head after fainting from low blood pressure while she was on her way to school. The parents said there were no signs from the videos they saw that Geravand was assaulted.

“I think they said she had low blood pressure… drop in blood pressure or fallen on the floor… her head hit the edge of the metro and then (her friends) took her off (the train),” her mother Shahin Ahmadi said.

“We checked the cameras. She went there… I am not sure… one of the girls was in front and one was behind her. She got on the train and fell down… I don’t know… what happened… whether she was unconscious… she fainted…. they pulled her out and called the emergency care. She was then taken to the hospital,” said her father, Ahmad Garavand.

It is unclear if Geravand’s family and friends were coerced into speaking to state media. In the past, UN human rights officials and rights groups have accused Iranian authorities of pressuring families of protesters killed to make statements supportive of the government narrative.

The Hengaw rights group said Ahmadi, Geravand’s mother, was arrested on Wednesday and “transferred to an unknown location” – a claim denied by Iranian security sources to the state-affiliated Tasnim news agency on Thursday.

Geravand’s friends also dismissed the allegations in an interview aired Wednesday on state-run IRNA.

Fatemah, one friend who claimed to be present on the day of the incident, said in an on-camera interview that the teenager “suddenly fell backwards and her head hit the ground.”

Mahla, another friend who said she was present, told the news outlet in an on-camera interview that everything happened very quickly once they entered the train.

“The claims that we have been warned about hijab and that someone has pushed Armita is a lie and absolutely untrue,” Mahla said.

CNN has been unable to reach the friends for comment and was not able to verify the last names of the two friends.

Some have however alleged that Geravand’s friends and family are under pressure to push forward the state’s narrative on the events.

The Coordinating Council of the Iranian Teachers Associations said in a statement on Telegram that Geravand’s friends “are under intense pressure to avoid sharing information about her condition on the day of the incident.”

“They were also to speak to the state-run new agencies, in front of cameras, and deny any incidents to Armita Garavand,” the Council said citing “reliable sources.”

It added that a security unit from the Ministry of Education warned teachers and students at the teenager’s school against speaking about the incident.

CNN’s calls to the Iranian government have not been returned.

The United States’ Special Envoy to Iran, Abram Paley, posted on X on Wednesday that he was “shocked and concerned about reports that Iran’s so-called morality police have assaulted 16-year-old Armita Geravand. We are following news of her condition. We continue to stand with the brave people of Iran and work with the world to hold the regime accountable for its abuses.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called Geravand’s situation “unbearable.”

More than 300 people were killed in months-long protests after Mahsa Amini’s death last year, including more than 40 children, the UN said in November. US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) in January placed the number of dead at more than 500, including 70 children. Thousands were arrested across the country, the UN said in a report in June, citing research released last year by their Human Rights Committee.

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