CNN investigates female and male protesters’ accounts of sexual assault in Iranian detention centers


They’d select the ladies who have been fairly and suited their urge for food …

… then the officer would take one of them from the cell to a smaller, personal room.”

“They would sexually assault them there.”

CNN Special Report

Covert testimonies reveal sexual assaults on male and female activists as a women-led rebellion spreads

By Tamara Qiblawi, Barbara Arvanitidis, Nima Elbagir, Alex Platt, Artemis Moshtaghian, Gianluca Mezzofiore, Celine Alkhaldi and Muhammad Jambaz, CNN

November 21, 2022

Haje Omeran, Iraq (CNN) — A trickle of individuals passes by way of a usually busy border crossing in the mountains of northern Iraq. “It’s a big prison over there,” one Iranian girl says, gesturing to the hulking gate that marks the border with Iran’s Islamic Republic, which has been convulsed by protest for over two months.

A portrait of the founder of Iran’s clerical regime, Ruhollah Khomeini, looms towards a backdrop of rolling hills studded with streetlights. Snatches of vacationers’ muted conversations punctuate an eerie silence.

Fear of indiscriminate arrest has made many reluctant to threat the journey. Some of the few who cross say the noose is tightening: protesters gunned down, curfews in the border villages and nighttime raids on houses.

In hushed tones, they converse of female protesters in explicit, and the horrors they are saying some have endured in Iran’s infamous detention amenities.

Iran’s authorities has closed the nation off to non-accredited overseas journalists, commonly shuts down the web and suppresses dissidents’ voices with mass arrests. An excessive local weather of worry prevails in Iran because the crackdown intensifies.

One Kurdish-Iranian girl, whom CNN is asking Hana for her security, says she each witnessed and suffered sexual violence whereas detained. “There were girls who were sexually assaulted and then transferred to other cities,” she stated. “They are scared to talk about these things.”

Women have performed a central position in Iran’s rebellion because it ignited two months in the past. The slogan “Women, Life, Freedom” reverberates by way of anti-regime demonstrations in its unique Kurdish (Jin, Jiyan, Azadi) and in Persian (Zan, Zendegi, Azadi). It is a nod to the 22-year-old Kurdish girl whose dying sparked the protests — Jina (Mahsa) Amini was believed to have been brutally crushed by Iran’s morality police for improper hijab and died days later.

The rights of ladies have additionally been on the coronary heart of debate amongst Iran’s clerical institution because the protests started. Some clerics and politicians have known as for the enjoyable of social guidelines, whereas others doubled down, conflating the female protesters with what they name “loose women” who have been merely pawns in a plot hatched by Western governments.

A group of young people wearing medical masks jump with their fists in the air around a pile of black material that has been set on fire.

Iranian protesters set their headscarves on fireplace whereas marching down a avenue on October 1, 2022 in Tehran, Iran. Getty Images

In one of probably the most placing feedback in the smear marketing campaign towards female protesters, Zeinab Soleimani, the daughter of Iran’s revered slain normal Qassem Soleimani, accused ladies in the protests of eager to “get naked.”

In current weeks, social media movies have emerged allegedly displaying Iranian safety forces sexually assaulting female demonstrators on the streets. Reports of sexual violence towards activists in prisons started to floor.

With media entry inside Iran severely constrained, CNN went to the area close to Iraq’s border with Iran, interviewing eyewitnesses who’d left the nation and verifying accounts from survivors and sources each in and outdoors Iran. CNN corroborated a number of experiences of sexual violence towards protesters and heard accounts of many extra. At least one of these induced extreme harm, and one other concerned the rape of an underage boy. In some of the circumstances CNN uncovered, the sexual assault was filmed and used to blackmail the protesters into silence, in keeping with sources who spoke to the victims.

Iranian officers haven’t but responded to CNN’s request for touch upon the abuses alleged in this report.

Armita Abbasi, 20, bore all of the hallmarks of a Gen Z-er. Her edgy hairdo was dyed platinum blonde and she had an eyebrow piercing. She wore coloured contact lenses, and filmed TikToks along with her cats from her front room.

The rebellion modified her life, and Iran’s safety forces seem to have subjected her to some of the worst of their brutality.

After the protests started, social media posts beneath Abbasi’s title turned charged with unrestrained criticism of Iran’s regime. It is unclear if she participated in the protests. Yet, in contrast to most Iranian dissidents contained in the nation, she didn’t anonymize her anti-regime posts.

A protest in Abbasi’s hometown of Karaj which has been a flashpoint in the nationwide rebellion. IranWire

She was arrested in her hometown of Karaj, simply west of Tehran, practically a month after the onset of the demonstrations. In an October 29 assertion, the federal government claimed she was “the leader of the riots” and that police found “10 Molotov cocktails” in her house.

It was an ominous assertion that appeared to suggest that Iran’s justice system would reserve a harsh punishment for the 20-year-old. But it additionally served as a denial of a sequence of leaked accounts on Instagram that had induced uproar on social media in the times since her arrest, and which turned Abbasi — like Amini and Nika Shahkarami earlier than her — into an emblem of Iran’s protest motion.

The contents of the leaked accounts — conversations between medics on Instagram’s personal messaging service — steered that Iranian safety forces tortured and sexually assaulted Abbasi.

On October 17, Abbasi was rushed to the Imam Ali hospital in Karaj, accompanied by plainclothes officers, in keeping with leaks from that hospital. Her head had been shaved and she was shaking violently. In the accounts, the medical workers attending to her spoke of the horror they felt after they noticed proof of brutal rape.

An insider at Imam Ali hospital confirmed the veracity of these leaks to CNN. The supply requested to stay nameless for safety causes.

“When she first came in, (the officers) said she was hemorrhaging from her rectum… due to repeated rape. The plainclothes men insisted that the doctor write it as rape prior to arrest,” wrote one member of the medical workers in one of the messages.

“After the truth became obvious to all, they changed the whole script,” wrote the medic. CNN can verify that 4 to 5 medics leaked the messages to social media. All of them stated they believed she was sexually assaulted in custody.

“To make it short, they screwed up,” that medic added of the safety forces. “They screwed up and they don’t know how to put it together again.”

In its assertion, the Iranian authorities stated Abbasi was handled for “digestive problems.” Medics on the Imam Ali hospital stated the declare didn’t tally with the signs Abbasi exhibited. Abbasi was additionally handled by a gynecologist and a psychiatrist, which the medics stated was additionally inconsistent with the federal government’s account.

CNN has offered the leaked accounts of Abbasi’s accidents to an Iranian physician outdoors Iran who stated the signs as described indicated brutal sexual assault.

“She was feeling so bad we thought she had cancer.”

– A medic who witnessed Abbasi’s accidents in hospital

The leaks level to a extremely secretive course of closely managed by Iranian safety forces. One medic stated on social media that police prevented workers from chatting with Abbasi, and that the hospital management’s account of her medical situation saved altering. When CNN known as the Imam Ali Hospital, a workers member stated that they had no report of her, regardless of the federal government’s acknowledgement that she was handled there.

According to the leaked accounts, safety forces eliminated Abbasi from the hospital by way of a rear entrance simply earlier than her household arrived to see her. “My heart which saw her and couldn’t free her is driving me crazy,” wrote one medic.

Abbasi is at present being held in Karaj’s infamous Fardis jail, in keeping with the Iranian authorities. CNN has been unable to succeed in her or her relations for remark.

Before Hana was arrested, she had been warned that girls in Iranian prisons have been “being treated very badly.” Her mom obtained a cellphone name from her neighbor — a high-level official in Mahabad jail in the nation’s northwest — urging her to not let her daughters out of their dwelling “under any circumstances,” Hana tells CNN.

Hana says she was undeterred. She joined the protests and, like many different female demonstrators, she spun round and danced as she waved her scarf in the air earlier than burning it, in what has develop into a ritualistic function of the nationwide protests.

When she was arrested, Iranian police stated they noticed her torching her scarf in surveillance footage, she says.

Hana says she was held in a detention heart at a police station in Iran’s northwestern metropolis of Urmia for twenty-four hours.

Unlike most of her fellow activists, Hana fled Iran. For days, she and her uncle’s household adopted a gaggle of Kurdish smugglers as they weaved by way of the border area’s mountains. Only a handful of protesters have launched into the perilous journey. That’s as a result of the Iranian facet of the border is closely militarized, and safety forces commonly shoot-to-kill those that cross, and smuggle items, illegally.

Hana now lives along with her kin in a mountain city in Iraqi Kurdistan. Her jet-black hair tumbles right down to her waist. A white scarf is wound round her neck on the day CNN speaks along with her. It covers a purple mark the place a safety officer compelled himself on her, she says, and violently kissed her.

Outside the tiny interrogation cell the place Hana says the policeman assaulted her — assailing her with guarantees of freedom as he hinted closely at calls for for sexual favors — a battle had damaged out, distracting the policeman.

“They will threaten (the woman) not to talk about the abuse, who did it to her, who insulted her, and who sexually violated her.”

— Hana

She recounts how a lady had been corralled into one other interrogation room as her teenage brother demanded he be part of her to verify nothing “was happening to her.” Hana describes the police beating the boy with batons. He lay on the bottom, wounded and having dirty himself in the course of the beating, she recollects. Meanwhile, his sister was screaming in the interrogation room. Hana says she believes the girl was being sexually assaulted.

Her female cellmates advised her that they had been raped in the police station, she says. When Hana’s interrogator returned, Hana says he resumed making undesirable sexual advances on her. But inside minutes, her father had come to bail her out, saving her, she believes, from the worst.

Other ladies weren’t so fortunate, she says. Many of these held on the station have been denied bail and disappeared right into a labyrinthine jail system which incorporates secret detention centers in army bases, in keeping with sources and rights teams. Kurdish rights groups have repeatedly reported that a whole lot of individuals have been forcibly disappeared in the Kurdish areas of Iran, and have documented proof of secret detention centers in army bases.

Video: Watch CNN’s interview with a ladies who tells how she endured sexual assault in an Iranian jail. 06:31

Most of the experiences of sexual violence reviewed by CNN because the protests sparked by Amini’s dying started got here from the west of the nation, the place massive swathes of the area are predominantly Kurdish. Throughout this investigation, CNN has spoken to sources in varied flashpoints of the nation’s protests, together with rights teams and activists linked to the Kurdish-majority areas, activists in common contact with female detainees in key prisons, akin to Evin jail in Tehran, and a Baluchi activist community linked to the southeast Baluch majority of the nation.

Alongside the authorities’ widespread detention of protesters, the media blackout in the nation has worsened. The stigma connected to victims of sexual violence provides one other layer of secrecy to what’s unfolding.

Despite the issue of investigating these claims and the dangers run by victims who report them, CNN has discovered of 11 incidents — typically involving a number of victims — of sexual violence towards protesters in Iranian prisons and has corroborated practically half of them. Almost all occurred in the Kurdish areas.

In one case, CNN obtained the audio testimony of a 17-year-old boy who stated he and his mates have been raped and electrocuted in detention after they have been arrested in the protests. Testimonies heard by CNN counsel that the sexual assault of the underage boy was not an remoted incident.

“They brought four men over who had been beaten, screaming intensely in another cell. And one of the men who was tortured, was sent to the waiting room where I was,” the boy advised CNN. “I asked him what all that screaming was about? He said they are raping the men.”

A security guard overheard the conversation about the sexual assault, the boy said, after which he proceeded to torture him. The boy said he then was also raped.

“I asked him what all that screaming was about? He said they are raping the men.”

— A 17-year-old boy in Kurdish-majority Iran

International rights groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also said that they recorded several instances of sexual assault in prisons since the onset of the protests in mid-September.

The head of the Kurdistan Human Rights network, Rebin Rahmani, told CNN that two women in detention, with whom he spoke, were threatened with the rape of their teenage sisters as a means of pressuring them into giving a forced TV confession. In one of those incidents, security forces brought the woman’s teenage sister to the interrogation room and asked her if she was “prepared” to let them rape her sister, he said, citing the woman’s account. The woman gave in and made the confession, she told him.

CNN relied on sources and survivors inside Iran risking their freedoms and lives to report the sexual violence. In Armita Abbasi’s case, her apparently brutal rape is unlikely to have become public knowledge if the medics had not leaked the details to the press and to social media.

“I’m not trying to spread fear and horror,” wrote one medic from Imam Ali hospital in a social media post. “But this is the truth. A crime is happening and I can’t remain silent.”

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