New Report on Rape in Iranian Prisons

June 29, 2011

        The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) published the following report on June 10, 2011. The report documents the cases of five former prisoners – two women and three men. They span the almost 30 years of the Islamic Republic’s existence. Four witnesses were raped; one was threatened with rape and saw rape victims:

        Allegations of rape and sexual violence of political prisoners began to emerge after the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979 and have continued, to varying degrees, to the present. However, not surprisingly, there is no reliable estimate of the number of prisoners raped in the Islamic Republic’s prisons. The reasons are simple:  few rape victims are willing to speak about their experiences due to (1) government pressure and acquiescence, and (2) social stigma. Iranian authorities have and continue to acquiesce to rapes of prisoners by guards and interrogators who use rape to crush detainees' spirit, inflict humiliation, discourage their dissent, force them to confess to crimes, and ultimately to intimidate them and others - all in violation of international human rights and Iranian law.
 
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. 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. 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. 
 
        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 orSepah) 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?’” 
 
        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.
 
These are details on the five specific cases:
        Saeeda Siabi, born in Azarbaijan, Iran, lives in Canada. She was arrested with her husband and four month old baby in December 1981, and raped while in prison.
 
        Mojtaba Saminnejad, born in 1980 in Tehran, Iran, is a blogger, journalist and human rights activist. He regularly writes on his blog Ghomar-e Ashoghaneh at http://www.madyariran.net/.
 
        Maryam Sabri, born in 1988 in Tehran, Iran, participated in demonstrations protesting the 2009 presidential election in Iran. She was repeatedly raped by her interrogators in an unidentified detention center.  She fled Iran soon after her release.
 
        Matin Yar, (pseudonym) born in 1987 in Iran is a young homosexual man who was tortured and raped in prison.  He currently lives outside Iran.
 
        Sorrour (pseudonym), born in 1984 in Western Azarbaijan, Iran, is a Kurdish activist living in Turkey. He was arrested after a family dispute and raped in prison.  
 
II. Prison Rape Violates International and Iranian Law
        Although rape is a crime in the Islamic Republic, as noted by the United Nation Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, the evidentiary standards are high and difficult to prove. In 2005, she noted that “[a] victim of rape can only prove her claim by presenting several male witnesses.” She described a case where the rape victim was unable to meet this threshold and therefore was charged with adultery. The evidentiary requirements are even more difficult to meet for victims in prison.
 
        Prison rape constitutes an act of torture, which is absolutely prohibited under both Iranian and international human rights law. Article 38 of the Iranian Constitution provides that "all forms of torture for the purpose of extracting confessions or acquiring information are forbidden.” The international prohibition against torture is codified in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). It is also set forth in several other international instruments including Article 7 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” While the Islamic Republic has declined to be a party to CAT, its authorities are still obligated to respect the Convention’s terms as it merely codified the already-existing universal prohibition against torture.
 

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