A 16-Year-Old Iranian Girl Is in a Coma, Putting the Spotlight Back on the Morality Police

A year after the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police, a 16-year-old girl has been hospitalized in the country after she entered a subway car with her hair uncovered, and left the same car unconscious.  

In security camera footage shared by Iran’s state television, the teen, Armita Garavand appeared to have her hair uncovered when she walked into a subway car in Tehran on Sunday. Shortly after, more security camera footage shows Armita being taken out of the train car unconscious.

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Footage of what happened on the train has not been released, but according to an Iranian Kurdish rights group, Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, the country’s morality police officers severely physically assaulted Armita for allegedly not abiding by the country’s dress code.

Authorities have denied any allegations against them, instead saying that Armita fainted after her blood pressure dropped because she skipped breakfast, the New York Times reports. Armita is currently in a coma in the intensive care unit of a Tehran military hospital under guard. 

Many are drawing comparisons to Amini, who died in custody of the morality police last year after she was arrested for allegedly wearing her head scarf too loosely. Amini’s death triggered a national uprising that became Iran’s longest protest since the late ‘70s, during which hundreds of people were killed. 

Here’s what to know. 

What happened 

Video footage of the incident shows a young girl with short black hair entering a train around 7 a.m on Sunday, though not much else is known about the sequence of events that followed.  

Journalist Farzad Seifikaran, who first reported on this story, according to the New York Times, interviewed Armita’s relatives who allege that Armita was with two friends on the train—who also had their hair exposed—when they got into an argument with officers over covering their hair. They said one of the officials then pushed Armita, who fell and hit her head against a metal object, according to the Times. Armita, the Times adds, has since suffered cerebral hemorrhaging from the incident and remains under critical care. 

The state news outlet IRNA, released footage of an interview with Armita’s parents on Tuesday reiterating the official version  of the incident. “My daughter, I think her blood pressure, I don’t know what, I think, they say that her blood pressure dropped then she fell down and her head hit the edge of the metro,” said Shahin Ahmadi, Armita’s mother. She said her daughter was on her way to school in the Shahada Metro when the incident occurred. 

During the interview, Armita’s father said that his daughter was healthy and was not on any medications. Both of the young girl’s parents reiterated that the events that transpired were an accident, and asked people to pray for their child’s recovery, per the IRNA

But many Iranians are skeptical of official accounts. A later press release by the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights alleged that Armita’s mother was later detained by Iranian officials. Her exact location, they say, has been unknown since Wednesday evening. The organization added that the interview released by IRNA with Armita’s parents was completed under “the intense presence and pressure of security forces.”

At the hospital, the Times reports that Armita is being guarded by security agents. Civil rights groups say that authorities have gone so far as to threaten to arrest family members if they speak to the press. 

A journalist for the newspaper Shargh was arrested and detained after she interviewed Ahmadi on Sunday, according to the paper’s editors.

Some say the extreme security measures and silencing of journalists is evidence of a greater crime committed. “Transparency means all the security agents leave Fajr Air Force Hospital and surrounding areas and journalists be allowed to report on what happened to the 16-year-old girl,” tweeted Mohsen Borhani, a lawyer in Tehran. “According to the laws of the country, preparing news about such an incident is not a crime.” 

What’s been happening in the country 

The past year has seen serious attacks against Iranian women. In March, more than 100 people were arrested for helping poison thousands of school girls across the country. Toxic gas attacks at schools, and especially girls schools, had been occurring since at least November 2022, and impacted numerous cities. The exact cause of the attacks remains unknown. Some say it was done by hyper-religious groups that are against the education of young girls while others say that the gas poisonings were meant to target young girls who took part in protests over Amini’s death.   

Current government rules in Iran mandate women to wear a hijab, but thousands have refused to do so daily in an act of defiance. The act is dangerous in a country that has warned women that they can use facial recognition technology to charge them for their crimes later. 

“Shocked and concerned about reports that Iran’s so-called morality police have assaulted 16-year-old Armita G[a]ravand. We are following news of her condition,” tweeted Abram Paley, the U.S. deputy special envoy for Iran.“We continue to stand with the brave people of Iran and work with the world to hold the regime accountable for its abuses.”