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Surviving Rape in Iran's Prisons

I. Rape and Sexual Abuse in Iran’s Prisons since 1979

Numerous reports of rape and sexual violence of detainees by Iranian authorities surfaced after the June 12, 2009 presidential election.2 For example, a teenager using the name “Ardeshir” described his detention in an unofficial detention center where he was repeatedly raped and watched others being taken from cells to be raped.3 A young woman using the name “Sara” reported being repeatedly raped by her interrogator after refusing to disclose the whereabouts of her brother. She reported that her interrogator raped her “from top to bottom” and “stuck up his arm deep into her body.” She was forced to falsely confess to having sexual intercourse with her brother. Her interrogator continued to summon and rape her after her release from prison. 4

A teenager using the name “Reza” told of his arrest with 40 other boys during an opposition demonstration in a “large provincial city.” Reza was raped as the other boys watched. After he reported the rape to his interrogator, his interrogator raped him so he would learn not to tell such tales anywhere else.5 An alleged former Basij member reported that rape of detainees was a reward conferred on Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enqelab-e Eslami or Sepah) and Basij members for crushing the demonstrations. He told how he and a relative came to realize that Basij members were raping children who had been arrested. When his relative confronted the senior officer, he “calmly replied with a smile: “This is Fath Al Moin [aid to victory]. It’s a worthy deed. There’s nothing wrong with it. Why are you complaining?’” 6

It soon became public that many demonstrators were detained and severely mistreated at the Kahrizak Detention Center outside Tehran. A former detainee reported hearing screams of younger and quieter detainees being raped. Mehdi Karroubi, a former speaker of the Majlis, and a presidential candidate in 2009, published a letter to Ayatollah Rafsanjani, then-head of the Expediency Council, alleging torture and sexual abuse of post-election detainees, and the regime closed the facility. However, as noted by the Iranian lawyer Shadi Sadr, this wave of rapes was not an “incident.” It was a continuation of practices that had existed since the 1979 revolution.8

During the early days after the revolution, many young men and women were imprisoned for political activities, and/or being members of ethnic or religious minorities, and charged with minor offenses.9 There were reports of interrogators raping and sexually molesting prisoners. For example, Amnesty

[2] See IRAN HUMAN RIGHTS DOCUMENTATION CENTER (IHRDC), VIOLENT AFTERMATH: THE 2009 ELECTION AND SUPPRESSION OF DISSENT IN IRAN 47-48 (2010), available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/reports/3161-violent-aftermath-the-2009-election-and-suppression-of-dissent-in-iran.html [hereinafter VIOLENT AFTERMATH]..
[3] Martin Fletcher and Special Correspondent in Tehran, Raped and beaten for daring to question President Ahmadinejad’s election, THE TIMES, Sept. 11, 2009, available at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6829921.ece.
[4] HUMAN RIGHTS & DEMOCRACY LIBRARY, Boroumand Foundation Interview of “Sara,” available athttp://www.iranrights.org/english/document-1512.php.
[5] Homa Homayoun, Iranian Boy who defied Tehran hardliners tells of prison rape ordeal, THE TIMES, Aug. 22, 2009, available at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6805885.ece.
[6] Lindsey Hilsum, Iran militia man, ‘I hope God forgives me,’ Dec. 16, 2009, available at http://www.channel4.com/news/iran-militia-man-i-hope-god-forgives-me.
[7] See VIOLENT AFTERMATH, supra note 2, at 51; Letter from Mehdi Karroubi to Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, Head of the Expediency Council (July 31, 2009), English translation available athttp://khordaad88.com/?p=75.
[8] Shadi Sadr, Feminist Attorney Speaks Out Against Rape As a Weapon of Torture in Iran [translated by Frieda Afary],PAYVAND IRAN NEWS, Sept. 8, 2009, available athttp://www.payvand.com/news/09/sep/1080.html.
[9] See AYATOLLAH HOSSEIN-ALI MONTAZERI, KHATIRAT-I AYATOLLAH MONTAZERI, MAJMU’IYYIH PAYVASTHA VA DASTNIVISHA [MEMOIR OF AYATOLLAH MONTAZERI, THE COLLECTION OF APPENDICES AND HANDWRITTEN NOTES] 585 (2001) [hereinafter MONTAZERI’S MEMOIRS].

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Imprisonment, Sexual Violence, Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, Punishment