Iran: rape, torture and murder of prisoners as regime policy
7 September 2009. A World to Win News Service. It seems there is no limit to the crimes that the Islamic Republic of Iran is committing against the people, especially youth who protested against years of repression and oppression.
One of the latest victims was 17-year-old Saeedeh Aghaee. She now lies buried with no name marker in Section 302 of the Behesht Zahra graveyard in Tehran. Her family held a memorial ceremony for her 29 August 2009. It is reported that Saeedeh was tortured, raped and then burnt in acid from the knees upward to destroy any evidence of the rape and other kinds of torture.
Saeedeh was arrested by plainclothes Basiji militiamen one night when she was shouting slogans on a rooftop. Her mother identified her body 20 days later in one of the refrigerated rooms where corpses are kept in south Tehran. But the authorities refused to hand over the body, according to an interview with a human rights activist in Iran published on the Deutsche Welt Persian website. They demanded a large sum of money to release Saeedeh's body, and her family could not afford it. After several weeks her family found out that she had been secretly buried in Behesht Zahra. According to some reports, the family was pressured to announce that her death was due to "kidney failure". But Saeedeh had no history of bad health or kidney problems. Relatives and friends were surprised by this announcement and suspected its validity. This led to an exposure of the facts and it became known how she was murdered.
Saeedeh's agonizing death may indicate that many of the unknown or unidentified bodies secretly buried in Section 302 are young women who were raped by the security forces and the Basiji. This is not the first such case to be exposed. Taraneh Mousavi, a woman of 18, was also raped and murdered while in custody and under interrogation. Her body was burnt and left in a remote area near Ghazvin (a city south of Tehran) Motorway. Taraneh was arrested at a 28 June protest. She was separated from the other detainees – a friend arrested with her was released the same day. There was no news about here whereabouts for nearly three weeks. Then her family received a call telling them that she had been admitted to a hospital for vaginal wounds, but when they contacted the hospital she had already been transferred to an unknown location. Around 14 July, the www.peykeiran.com website reported that she was missing. The regime denied it until 17 July when her body was found.
The news of Taraneh's rape and death was so shocking that at first some people found it unbelievable. So the regime's TV went even further and claimed that Taraneh was still alive. The regime media used interviews with relatives of someone named Taraneh Mousavi who is living in Canada to strengthen their story. But both Taraneh as a first name and Mousavi as a family name are very common, and there could be many people with the same name. Even some Members of Parliament objected that the regime's claim was not credible. After weeks of dispute around this, finally Morteza Alviry, a member of the Committee to Pursue the Rights of those Arrested and Injured after the Election, announced that Taraneh Mousavi had been murdered by the authorities. He criticised the Islamic Republic's Channel 2 for broadcasting a fabricated story. There is no doubt that Taraneh's family has been under tremendous pressure not to talk. And they have not been allowed to be interviewed or talk publicly.
It seems very likely that Saeedeh and Traneh were not the only victims of such vicious crimes. The exposure of secret burials in Section 302 and the news of the existence of a mass grave near the Behesht Zahra cemetary, followed by removal of one of the bosses at the Behesht Zahra graveyard, have provided even more grounds for suspicion.
Young boys have also been raped in prison over the last three months. As early as 1 July, the Guardian, as "a project to trace those killed and detained during the unrest" in Iran, published the account given by Afshin, a shopkeeper in Shiraz, in southwest Iran. Afshin told the UK newspaper that one of his friends was beaten and repeatedly raped after being arrested. The friend went to see Afshin following his release. "His shoulder blades and arms were wounded. There were some slashes on the face. No bone fractures, but he was bruised all over the body… The doctor said only four of his teeth were intact, the rest were broken. You could hardly understand what he said… Then the doctor told me what had happened. He had suffered a rupture of the rectum and the doctor feared colonic bleeding. He suggested we take him to the hospital immediately."
The victim was so depressed that he told Afshin "not to waste money on him because he would kill himself." The Guardian wrote that it has been unable to independently verify the account. But the numerous reports from Tehran and other cities have exposed the rape of both young women and men as a systematic method of torture meant to smash the spirit of the young Iranian protestors who fought the regime so courageously.
One way these cases came to be widely known was through a letter from within the Islamic system itself that shook the whole ruling power. Mehdi Karoubi, one of the two opposition presidential candidates, wrote to Ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani (a central regime figure and factional opponent of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) about the abuse of prisoners. Since Rafsanjani did not respond, Karoubi made the letter public:
“Some of those people who have been arrested have said that some of the arrested girls have been raped so brutally that they have suffered wounds and ruptures in their vaginas. And further they have brutally raped arrested boys such that the victims are suffering depression and serious physical and mental problems, and have crept into a corner in their homes."
This letter provoked a counter-attack by several leading regime authorities. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani denied that there had been any rape in the prisons and accused Karoubi of making accusations without evidence. Karoubi responded by accusing Larijani of taking a position without investigation. He said that he did have evidence but that he was waiting for a guarantee of immunity for the victims before revealing it. Finally a specially appointed parliamentary commission had no choice but to tackle the issue. Nobody is expecting that the regime's commission – made up of the main leaders and commanders responsible for this rape and torture – will genuinely investigate these cases. They will try to blur the facts while the security forces threaten even more victims.
In some cases where the facts are known, the victims have been threatened with the arrest and torture of their brothers or sisters if they talk about what happened to them.
A telling example is that of a young boy who was arrested and raped. He finally ended his life by throwing himself from the top of a pedestrian bridge because his interrogator had called him to come in again. The film of his body lying in a pool of blood while his father shouts and swears against the Islamic Republic of Iran has been posted on YouTube.
While the rape of young boys on such a scale may be a new phenomenon since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's coup d'état, the rape of women has been systematically used to torture women since the regime's early days. Hatred of women has always been part of the Islamic Republic's core identity. Among the members and supporters of revolutionary and communist organisations arrested then, the regime had those women believed to be virgins raped before being executed. Even more sickening, those young women were declared temporarily married to their torturer or a Pasdar (so-called Revolutionary Guard) or prison guard, to put the stamp of religious legitimacy on that rape. At the beginning this was done under a religious pretext, supposedly so that the executed young women could not enter "paradise" after their death. But after most of the political prisoners were murdered in the '80s, the Islamic Republic extended the use of rape as a method of torture to break the will of other prisoners as well, whether meant to obtain a confession or just to break the spirit of the prisoners as a whole.
The opposition leaders Karoubi and Mir-Hussein Mousavi are trying to give the impression that the rape of prisoners is something new. While it is now taking place on an even more shocking scale, the systematic rape of prisoners first became government policy when Mousavi was prime minster in the 1980s and continued when Karoubi was the head of parliament in the '90s. And it could not have been initiated or continued without the direct or indirect approval of the regime's founder, Ayatollah Khomeini. It was so widely used that Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, who at that time was slated to succeed the Supreme Leader, wrote to him on 9 October 1986 asking, perhaps rhetorically, "Do you know that a large number of prisoners have been killed under torture? Do you know that in Mashhad around 25 girls had to have their ovaries or wombs removed because of what happened to them in prison? Are you aware that in some of the Islamic Republic's prisons, the young girls have been forcibly raped during the interrogations?"
The practice of this crime continued over the following decades. One of the most infamous cases was that of Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian journalist murdered in custody in July 2003. Lawyers who followed this case believe that judge Saeed Mortazavi ordered and directed her torture and murder. Another is that of Zahra Baniyaghoub, a medical doctor arrested by security forces in Hamedan. After she was raped and murdered, the authorities announced that she had committed suicide. Then there is the case of Atefeh Rajabi, a 16 year-old girl raped by the judges in northern town of Neka. Despite her age, the judge Hadji Rezai hastily hanged her for "adultery" personally to cover up the crime. Rezai and a number of security forces officers were arrested in connection with that case, but most of them were released shortly after.
While the rape and murder of prisoners has been systematic since the start, what is new today is that these attempts to terrify the population and break the people's spirit have turned into their opposite. These crimes have outraged the masses, and the attempted cover-ups have provoked them even more. Now the authorities have promised to investigate and in desperation formed different kinds of committees and commissions, but it is far too late to cool the anger of a wounded people.
The fact is that many of those women who were raped were executed, and many of the others who made it out of prison were so broken or in fear of humiliation that they remained silent. Many saw no way out. Often they did not even tell their family and carried this torture within themselves for years. In some cases, they raised it with their husbands or a family member years later. In recent weeks, more women ex-political prisoners have found the courage to speak out about what happened to them.
Two women who were prisoners in the early 1980s, Azar Al-e-Kan'an from Sanandaj in Kurdistan, and Katayoun Azarly from Mashhad, have given interviews to Iranian filmmaker Reza Allamezadeh. (The interviews with English subtitles can be found on www.reza.malakut.org, or on YouTube by searching "rape in prisons of Iran".) Despite nearly three decades of silence, they have decided that they should expose the Islamic regime's crimes and open a new front of struggle against it, going against the old and reactionary tradition that the victims should be silent about their "dishonour" while criminals get away with their crimes.
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