How a video taken out of context made Hadis Najafi a symbol of repression in Iran

Screenshot of a video taken out of context, media outlets claimed it showed Hadis Najafi, an Iranian protester killed in Karaj on 21 September
Screenshot of a video taken out of context, media outlets claimed it showed Hadis Najafi, an Iranian protester killed in Karaj on 21 September © Observers France 24 / DR

Since Sunday 25 September, dozens of international media outlets have shared a video of an Iranian woman tying up her hair before confronting the police, claiming it was Hadis Najafi, shortly before she was killed. However, the video does not show Hadis Najafi, but a different woman who participated in Iran's protests. 

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In the video in question, we can see a woman from behind, adjusting her ponytail before running towards one of the many protests that have been taking place in Iran since 16 September, which were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest.

The video was shared on Twitter on 25 September by Masih Alinejad, an exiled Iranian activist who wrote: "This 20 year old girl who was getting ready to join the protest against the murder of Mahsa Amini got killed by 6 bullets. Hadis Najafi, 20, was shot in the chest, face and neck by the security forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran". Other images that supposedly showed Hadis Najafi alive were shared alongside the video. 

tweet de masih Alinejad publiant un montage video disant montrer hadis najafi. Mais le premier extrait montre une autre manifestante.

The video of the young woman with the ponytail was quickly picked up by dozens of media outlets, which presented her as Hadis Najafi. It's a powerful video that symbolises the repression in Iran and the protests that have been sweeping the country, during which women have been publicly removing and burning their headscarves..

Woman in the ponytail video tells BBC she is not Hadis Najafi

On 26 September, BBC Persian claimed to have been contacted by a woman who said she was the protagonist of the video and that she was still alive. To prove her identity, she sent them a video of herself doing the same thing.

Family gives details of Najafi’s Sept. 21 death

A Persian-language media outlet based in the Netherlands called Radio Zamaneh contacted a relative of Hadis Najafi, who said that she had physical similarities with the ponytail woman. 

Although she was not the woman in the ponytail video, Hadis Najafi was indeed killed at a protest. The 22-year-old woman was killed after being shot at least 20 times by shotgun pellets in the chest, face and neck during a protest in Karaj on 21 September, according to Radio Zamaneh. The media outlet published the woman's death certificate and photos of her injuries. Her name also appears in a list of victims published by Amnesty International and her family confirmed her death to BBC Persian on 26 September. 

Screenshot of Hadis Najafi's death certificate, posted on Instagram by her sister.
Screenshot of Hadis Najafi's death certificate, posted on Instagram by her sister. © Instagram

"Her face and body were hit by more than 20 shotgun pellets, above her eyes, above and below her mouth, on her neck and all around her chest,” the family member told Radio Zamaneh. “When the family opened the coffin for burial, they saw that her body was full of holes." The family member said the authorities released the body to the family on Friday, after pressuring them to say that her death was of natural causes.

The radio station also said it spoke to Hadis Najafi’s older sister, Shirin Najafi. The sister said the family had been sent the video by friends and initially told the media that it showed their sister, because the woman in the video had similar hair, clothes and glasses. They realised their mistake when the real woman in the video identified herself to the BBC, the sister said.

On Instagram, Shirin Najafi posted pictures of the funeral and her sister's death certificate.

Other images circulating on social media accurately claim to show Hadis Najafi alive. This is the case of the two videos that follow the one of the woman tying up her hair in the edit published by Masih Alinejad. Meanwhile, on her TikTok account, Hadis Najafi posted videos of herself full of life, dancing and singing.