The cover art of Amnesty International’s report on sexual violence weaponized to crush Iran's Woman, Life, Freedom protests

Rights Group Says Iran Security Used Sexual Violence Against Protesters

Wednesday, 12/06/2023

Amnesty International has released a report exposing the Iranian government's use of rape and sexual violence as tools of repression in last year’s protests.

The 120-page report titled “They violently raped me: Sexual violence weaponized to crush Iran’s Woman, Life, Freedom uprising,” refers to the popular revolt against the Islamic Republic sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of the so-called morality police. The recurring nationwide protests that started in September 2022 lasted for months until the regime crushed the dissent by killing about 600, arresting over 22,000 and hanging some of protesters.

The new report published Wednesday documents in detail “the harrowing ordeals of 45 survivors, including 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 challenging decades of oppression and entrenched gender-based discrimination.”

Sixteen of the 45 survivors whose cases were documented in the report were raped, including six women, seven men, a 14-year-old girl, and two boys aged 16 and 17. Six of them – four women and two men – were gang raped by up to 10 male agents. ‎

The victims faced sexual violence at the hands of various branches of the Iranian security apparatus, including the Revolutionary Guards, Basij paramilitary force, Intelligence Ministry, and different police branches in more than half of Iran's 31 provinces. The survivors' testimonies paint a disturbing picture of rape and sexual violence, with victims subjected to unimaginable brutality, including the use of wooden and metal batons, glass bottles, hosepipes, and even electric shocks.

Map of Iran showing the 17 provinces where Amnesty International documented rape and other forms of sexual violence against protesters during the “Woman Life Freedom” uprising Amnesty International

Criminology expert Moein Khazaeli said in an interview with Iran International that the report provides damning evidence that sexual violence is systematic in Iran. The perpetrators are either directly ordered by superiors to engage in such acts or their actions are intentionally ignored by the government, indicating that “sexual violence is used as tool for repression.”

Despite earlier reports of a pattern of widespread sexual violence as a means of torture and intimidation, the Iranian authorities have never charged or prosecuted anyone for such crimes. The report highlighted that the lack of accountability has left survivors grappling with physical and psychological trauma, many unable to seek justice domestically due to the fear of reprisals.

“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," said Sahar, a Baluchi woman who recounted the traumatic impact of sexual violence at the hands of security forces, who removed her clothes and touched her breasts and genitals while mocking her body and skin color and threatening her with rape.

Human rights activist Reza Akvanian told Iran International the primary force that push numerous survivors to commit suicide after their release is the profound psychological trauma inflicted by the Islamic Republic’s forces.

Another woman, Zahra, told Amnesty International that, while in a van belonging to the Special Forces of Iran’s police (yegan-e vijeh), an agent pulled down her trousers in the presence of other female detainees and raped her. She added that she witnessed another agent ordering two handcuffed women in the van to perform oral sex acts on him and, when one woman refused, he dragged her out of the van by her hair.

Amnesty International's Secretary-General Agnés Callamard emphasized how survivors have been left without recourse, trapped in a cycle of institutionalized impunity, silencing, and enduring deep physical and psychological scars, pointing to “a wider pattern in the use of sexual violence as a key weapon in the Iranian authorities’ armory 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,” Callamard stated.

Amnesty International urged the global community to stand with the survivors and pursue justice, including through supporting the extension of the UN Fact-Finding mission on Iran to ensure an independent mechanism for collecting, preserving, and analyzing evidence of crimes under international law. The rights group also urged states to initiate criminal investigations against suspected perpetrators under the principle of universal jurisdiction, stressing the need for international arrest warrants.

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