Iran: security forces used rape to help crush women's rights protests - new report

Research documents 45 cases of rape - including gang-rape - and other forms of sexual violence, with men and children also abused

Sexual violence was frequently accompanied by beating, flogging, electric shocks and other forms of torture

‘I don’t think I will ever be the same person again’ - woman raped by special forces police

‘The harrowing testimonies we collected point to a wider pattern in the use of sexual violence as a key weapon in the Iranian authorities’ armoury of repression’ - Agnés Callamard

The Iranian security forces have used rape and other forms of sexual violence to intimidate and punish peaceful protesters during last year’s “Woman Life Freedom” uprising, Amnesty International said in a major new report today. 

The 120-page report, Sexual Violence Weaponised to Crush Iran’s ‘Woman Life Freedom’ Uprising, documents in harrowing detail the ordeal of 45 survivors - 26 men, 12 women and seven children - who were subjected to rape, gang-rape and/or other forms of sexual violence by intelligence and security forces following their arbitrary arrest for taking part in the protests. 

The perpetrators include agents from the Revolutionary Guards, the paramilitary Basij force and the Ministry of Intelligence, as well as different branches of the police force - including the public security police (police amniat-e omoumi), the investigation unit (agahi), and the special forces group (yegan-e vijeh). Survivors include women and girls who had removed their headscarves, as well as men and boys who took to the streets to express their outrage at decades of gender-based discrimination and oppression.

Sixteen of the 45 survivors whose cases are documented in the report were raped - including six women, seven men, a 14-year-old girl, and two boys aged 16 and 17. Six - four women and two men - were gang-raped by up to ten male agents. State agents raped women and girls vaginally, anally and orally, while men and boys were raped anally. Survivors were raped with wooden and metal batons, glass bottles, hosepipes, and/or agents’ sexual organs and fingers. Rapes took place in detention facilities and police vans, as well as schools or residential buildings unlawfully repurposed as detention places.

Farzad, who was gang-raped in a van belonging to the special forces police unit, said:

“Plainclothes agents made us face the walls of the vehicle and gave electric shocks to our legs …They tortured me through beatings … resulting in my nose and teeth being broken. They pulled down my trousers and raped me … I was really being ripped apart … I was throwing up a lot and bleeding from my rectum.”

Maryam, who was gang-raped in a Revolutionary Guards detention centre, recounted that her rapists told her: 

“You are all addicted to penis, so we showed you a good time. Isn’t ‎this what you seek from liberation?”

Amnesty also documented the cases of 29 survivors who were subjected to forms of sexual violence other than rape. These routinely involved state agents grabbing, groping, beating, punching and kicking breasts, genitals and buttocks; enforcing nudity, sometimes in front of video cameras; administrating electric shocks, inserting needles or applying ice to men’s testicles; forcibly cutting women’s hair and/or dragging them by their hair; and threats to rape survivors and/or their relatives. 

The sexual violence was frequently accompanied by other forms of torture and ill-treatment, including beating, flogging, electric shocks, the administration of unidentified pills or injections, the denial of food and water, and cruel and inhuman detention conditions. The security forces also routinely denied survivors medical care, including for rape-related injuries. 

Amnesty shared its findings with the Iranian authorities on 24 November but has yet to receive a response. To date, the Iranian authorities have not charged or prosecuted any officials over the rapes and other forms of sexual violence documented in the report. 

Agnés Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:

“Our research exposes how intelligence and security agents in Iran used rape and other sexual violence to torture, punish and inflict lasting physical and psychological damage on protesters, including children as young as 12. 

“The harrowing testimonies we collected point to a wider pattern in the use of sexual violence as a key weapon in the Iranian authorities’ armoury of repression of the protests and suppression of dissent to cling to power at all costs.
 
“Iran’s prosecutors and judges were not only complicit by ignoring or covering up survivors’ complaints of rape, but also used torture-tainted ‘confessions’ to bring spurious charges against survivors and sentence them to imprisonment or death. 

“Victims have been left with no recourse and no redress.

“With no prospects for justice domestically, the international community has a duty to stand with the survivors and pursue justice.” 

Fear of retribution and lasting psychological harm

The overwhelming majority of survivors told Amnesty that they did not file complaints after release, fearing further harm and believing the Iranian judiciary to be a tool of repression rather than redress. Six survivors revealed their torture marks or complained about abuse when brought in front of prosecution officials for questioning while still in detention but were ignored. Three survivors raised formal complaints after release, but two were forced to withdraw them after the security forces threatened to kidnap and/or kill them or their relatives, while a third person was ignored for months and told by a high-ranking official that he “mistook” a body search for sexual violence. 

Amnesty has also examined a leaked official document, dated 13 October 2022 and published by a media outlet outside Iran in February this year, which reveals that the authorities covered up complaints of rape made by two young women against two Revolutionary Guards agents during the protests. Tehran’s deputy prosecutor advised in the document that the cases should be classified “completely secret” and suggested they gradually be “close[d] over time.”‎

The women, men and child survivors told Amnesty they continue to deal with the physical and psychological traumas of rape and other forms of sexual violence. The mother of a schoolboy who was raped told Amnesty that her son had twice attempted to take his own life while in custody. One protester, Sahar, recounted the traumatic impact of sexual violence at the hands of the security forces who removed her clothes - apart from her underwear - and groped her breasts and genitals while mocking and threatening her with rape. She said: 

“I used to be a fighter in life. Even when the Islamic Republic tried ‎to break me down, I carried on. However, recently, I think about suicide a lot … I am like a person who waits all day for ‎night-time so I can sleep.”‎ 

Zahra, a woman who was raped by a special forces police agent, said: 

“I don’t think I will ever be the same person again. You will not find anything that will bring me back to myself, to return my soul to me … I hope that my testimony will result in justice and not just for me.”

The true extent of sexual violence in the security forces’ response to the “Woman Life Freedom” uprising is difficult to estimate, as stigma and fear of reprisal have led to significant under-reporting. However, Amnesty’s detailed documentation of 45 cases in more than half of Iran’s provinces - along with accounts from survivors and other former detainees about additional instances of rape and other sexual violence against scores of detained protesters - indicates that the documented violations are part of a wider pattern of such abuse. 
 

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Sexual Violence Weaponised to Crush Iran’s ‘Woman Life Freedom’ Uprising