New Prison-Rape Allegations In Iran Bring Practice To Light
By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
Tehran's infamous Evin prison -- many
say rape has been used by interrogators in Iran for decades.
Allegations of prison authorities' use of rape as a means of punishment or
intimidation in the Islamic republic are nothing new.
But for the first time, a high-profile figure in the Islamic establishment has
acknowledged the apparent rise in the practice, and is calling for an
Former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi was a losing reformist candidate for
president in Iran's contentious June 12 election, but in the aftermath has
strengthened his position as a leading opposition figure by taking a number of
stances that make the regime uncomfortable.
None has been more controversial than his revelation in a letter published
earlier this month to former President and Assembly of Experts head Akbar
Hashemi Rafsanjani that a number of protesters, women and young boys alike,
detained in the postelection unrest had been subjected to brutal rapes.
Calling for an investigation, Karrubi urged Rafsanjani to bring the issue up
with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Hard-liners were quick to attack Karrubi, calling for his prosecution for
"libeling the system" unless he could prove the allegations. In response,
Karrubi has upped the ante, publishing on his website a graphic account of the
rape of a young male detainee.
Mehdi Karrubi has called for an official investigation.
The individual says in the account, published this
week, that he was nearly beaten to death and raped. "Worse than all of that,
they did something to me that even unbelievers and idol worshipers would
Karrubi has also handed the names of four individuals who say they were raped in
prison to a special parliamentary commission that is in charge of investigating
the postelection unrest.
A member of the parliamentary commission, who did not want to be named, was
quoted on August 26 by the "Parlemannews" website as saying that it's clear that
some detainees were raped with batons and bottles.
And Karrubi's son told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on August 25 that his father will
present other rape cases to parliament in the future.
Long History Of Abuse
Abdol Karim Lahidji, the deputy director of the Paris-based International
Federation for Human Rights, describes Karrubi's move as very significant.
He says his organization has been condemning rape in Iran's prisons in its
annual reports to United Nations human rights bodies, "but now a well-known
figure in the Islamic republic who has twice been parliament speaker and a
presidential candidate, has not only spoken about it but he has identified
several victims and called on the parliament to give them protection."
Lahidji says that if the victims are given protection, then the investigation
might lead to some results.
Lahidji, who has been monitoring human rights in Iran for three decades, says
that over the years he's received a number reports about political prisoners
being raped by their interrogators.
"Unfortunately, in the 1980s we used to receive a lot of news about girls being
raped in prison before being executed," he says.
Lahidji says that he also personally dealt with rape cases following the student
uprising of 1999; "one of the students whom I interviewed in Europe said many of
the boys had been raped in prison."
Monireh Baradaran is a former political prisoner who has published a prison
memoir about her nine years in prison from 1981 to 1991. She tells RFE/RL she
met a girl in prison who had become mentally ill after being raped by her
"She was then a beautiful, 16-year-old girl. She wouldn't talk, she was silent
all the time , but I had heard from people close to her including her sister,
who was also in jail, that she had been raped," Baradaran says.
"She was in total silence; she would distance herself from others."
Baradaran says rape is used as a torture method intended to crush detainees'
Azar Ale Kanaan, a former political prisoner, says the memories of her rape some
20 years ago in a prison in Sanandaj are still unbearable. Her interrogator, who
had promised to break her down, raped her while her hands were tied and she was
Video interview with Azar
Ale Kanaan by well-known Iranian filmmaker Reza Allamezadeh (English
"I knew he was my enemy and my enemy has done this to me, the enemy has touched
me, raped me. Even when he was lashing me, it was a rape in a sense," Ale Kanaan
"But I could deal with the lashes and cable much easier than this because the
physical pain of lashes goes away after a while , but the pain of rape, the pain
of those dirty hands touching me.... For me, remembering it is like...like a
mother in front of whom her only dearest child is killed."
Breaking The Silence
Former political prisoner Nasrin Parvaz says many of those who endured rape in
Iranian prisons, women and men alike, choose to remain silent.
She says she personally knows three men now living in Britain who were raped in
Iranian prisons. She adds that for some reason they won't speak about it, "and I
don't judge them. It has to do with the society's culture."
Nasrin Parvaz says many of the victims remain silent
Parvaz says one of the three men was raped 12 years
ago while the case of the other two is two years old. She adds that they have
not only been damaged psychologically, but one of them is still being treated
for "physical damage."
Iran's Writers Association has said in a statement that torturers who use rape
play on their victims' sense of shame. The group has praised rape victims who
have had the courage to come forward about their experience, and has
characterized the disclosure of rape as commitment to freedom of expression.
Former political prisoner and artist Soudabeh Ardavan says that during the '80s
"social and political conditions" were not appropriate for rape victims to talk
about their experience.
"We have many of these cases that are still hidden," she says. "Some of my
friends are reaching, after 30 years, a stage where they slowly start to talk
about what happened to them [ in detention]."
But Ardavan sees the recent revelations as a positive sign, in the sense that
the problem is out in the open.
Observers say the Islamic republic's legitimacy has already been severely
damaged as the result of the postelection crisis. The supreme leader has been
publicly challenged and a rift in the country's leadership has widened. There
have been reports of peaceful protesters being shot dead, and prisoners brutally
And with the recent allegations of rape, the Islamic establishment -- whose
officials claim to rule the country based on moral and religious values -- faces
another severe test.
As Karrubi wrote in his letter to Rafsanjani on August 9, if any of the
allegations of rape proved to be true it would be a tragedy for the
Radio Farda broadcaster Elahe Ravanshad contributed to this report Copyright (c) 2009 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org