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

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

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

“They’d sexually assault them there.”

CNN Particular Report

Covert testimonies reveal sexual assaults on female and male 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 via a usually busy border crossing within the mountains of northern Iraq. “It’s a giant jail over there,” one Iranian lady 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 founding father 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.

Worry of indiscriminate arrest has made many reluctant to danger the journey. A few of the few who cross say the noose is tightening: protesters gunned down, curfews within the border villages and nighttime raids on houses.

In hushed tones, they communicate of feminine protesters specifically, and the horrors they are saying some have endured in Iran’s infamous detention services.

Iran’s authorities has closed the nation off to non-accredited international journalists, repeatedly 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 lady, whom CNN is looking Hana for her security, says she each witnessed and suffered sexual violence whereas detained. “There have been ladies who had been sexually assaulted after which transferred to different cities,” she mentioned. “They’re scared to speak about this stuff.”

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

Girls have performed a central function in Iran’s rebellion because it ignited two months in the past. The slogan “Girls, Life, Freedom” reverberates via anti-regime demonstrations in its authentic Kurdish (Jin, Jiyan, Azadi) and in Persian (Zan, Zendegi, Azadi). It’s a nod to the 22-year-old Kurdish lady whose loss of life 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 for the reason that protests started. Some clerics and politicians have referred to as for the enjoyable of social guidelines, whereas others doubled down, conflating the feminine protesters with what they name “unfastened girls” who had been merely pawns in a plot hatched by Western governments.

In some of the placing feedback within the smear marketing campaign towards feminine protesters, Zeinab Soleimani, the daughter of Iran’s revered slain basic Qassem Soleimani, accused girls within the protests of desirous to “get bare.”

In current weeks, social media movies have emerged allegedly exhibiting Iranian safety forces sexually assaulting feminine demonstrators on the streets. Stories 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 out of doors Iran. CNN corroborated a number of studies of sexual violence towards protesters and heard accounts of many extra. A minimum of one among these triggered extreme harm, and one other concerned the rape of an underage boy. In a few of the instances CNN uncovered, the sexual assault was filmed and used to blackmail the protesters into silence, in line with sources who spoke to the victims.

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

Armita Abbasi, 20, bore all of the hallmarks of a Gen Z-er. Her edgy hairdo was dyed platinum blonde and she or he 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 a few of the worst of their brutality.

After the protests started, social media posts below Abbasi’s title turned charged with unrestrained criticism of Iran’s regime. It’s unclear if she participated within the protests. But, not like 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 within 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 chief 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. However it additionally served as a denial of a sequence of leaked accounts on Instagram that had triggered uproar on social media within the days since her arrest, and which turned Abbasi — like Amini and Nika Shahkarami earlier than her — into a logo of Iran’s protest motion.

The contents of the leaked accounts — conversations between medics on Instagram’s personal messaging service — recommended 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 line with leaks from that hospital. Her head had been shaved and she or he was shaking violently. Within the accounts, the medical workers attending to her spoke of the horror they felt once 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 got here in, (the officers) mentioned she was hemorrhaging from her rectum… on account of repeated rape. The plainclothes males insisted that the physician write it as rape previous to arrest,” wrote one member of the medical workers in one of many messages.

“After the reality turned apparent to all, they modified the entire script,” wrote the medic. CNN can verify that 4 to 5 medics leaked the messages to social media. All of them mentioned they believed she was sexually assaulted in custody.

“To make it brief, they screwed up,” that medic added of the safety forces. “They screwed up and so they don’t know tips on how to put it collectively once more.”

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

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

“She was feeling so dangerous we thought she had most cancers.”

– 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 mentioned on social media that police prevented workers from talking to Abbasi, and that the hospital management’s account of her medical situation saved altering. When CNN referred to as the Imam Ali Hospital, a workers member mentioned they’d no document of her, regardless of the federal government’s acknowledgement that she was handled there.

In line with the leaked accounts, safety forces eliminated Abbasi from the hospital via a rear entrance simply earlier than her household arrived to see her. “My coronary heart which noticed her and couldn’t free her is driving me loopy,” wrote one medic.

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

Earlier than Hana was arrested, she had been warned that girls in Iranian prisons had been “being handled very badly.” Her mom acquired a telephone name from her neighbor — a high-level official in Mahabad jail within the nation’s northwest — urging her to not let her daughters out of their house “below any circumstances,” Hana tells CNN.

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

When she was arrested, Iranian police mentioned 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.

Not like 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 via the border area’s mountains. Solely a handful of protesters have launched into the perilous journey. That’s as a result of the Iranian aspect of the border is closely militarized, and safety forces repeatedly shoot-to-kill those that cross, and smuggle items, illegally.

Hana now lives along with her family members 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 pressured himself on her, she says, and violently kissed her.

Exterior 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 may threaten (the girl) to not discuss in regards to 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 ensure nothing “was occurring to her.” Hana describes the police beating the boy with batons. He lay on the bottom, wounded and having dirty himself through the beating, she recollects. In the meantime, his sister was screaming within the interrogation room. Hana says she believes the girl was being sexually assaulted.

Her feminine cellmates instructed her they’d been raped within the police station, she says. When Hana’s interrogator returned, Hana says he resumed making undesirable sexual advances on her. However inside minutes, her father had come to bail her out, saving her, she believes, from the worst.

Different girls weren’t so fortunate, she says. A lot of these held on the station had been denied bail and disappeared right into a labyrinthine jail system which incorporates secret detention facilities in navy bases, in line with sources and rights teams. Kurdish rights groups have repeatedly reported that a whole bunch of individuals have been forcibly disappeared within the Kurdish areas of Iran, and have documented proof of secret detention facilities in navy bases.

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

Many of the studies of sexual violence reviewed by CNN for the reason that protests sparked by Amini’s loss of life started got here from the west of the nation, the place massive swathes of the area are predominantly Kurdish. All through this investigation, CNN has spoken to sources in numerous flashpoints of the nation’s protests, together with rights teams and activists linked to the Kurdish-majority areas, activists in common contact with feminine detainees in key prisons, comparable 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 within the nation has worsened. The stigma hooked up to victims of sexual violence provides one other layer of secrecy to what’s unfolding.

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

In a single case, CNN acquired the audio testimony of a 17-year-old boy who mentioned he and his pals had been raped and electrocuted in detention after they had been arrested within the protests. Testimonies heard by CNN recommend that the sexual assault of the underage boy was not an remoted incident.

“They introduced 4 males over who had been crushed, screaming intensely in one other cell. And one of many males who was tortured, was despatched to the ready room the place I used to be,” the boy instructed CNN. “I requested him what all that screaming was about? He mentioned they’re raping the lads.”

A safety guard overheard the dialog in regards to the sexual assault, the boy mentioned, after which he proceeded to torture him. The boy mentioned he then was additionally raped.

“I requested him what all that screaming was about? He mentioned they’re raping the lads.”

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

Worldwide rights teams Human Rights Watch and Amnesty Worldwide have additionally mentioned that they recorded a number of cases of sexual assault in prisons for the reason that onset of the protests in mid-September.

The top of the Kurdistan Human Rights community, Rebin Rahmani, instructed CNN that two girls in detention, with whom he spoke, had been threatened with the rape of their teenage sisters as a method of pressuring them into giving a pressured TV confession. In a type of incidents, safety forces introduced the girl’s teenage sister to the interrogation room and requested her if she was “ready” to allow them to rape her sister, he mentioned, citing the girl’s account. The lady gave in and made the confession, she instructed 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 develop into public information if the medics had not leaked the small print to the press and to social media.

“I’m not making an attempt to unfold worry and horror,” wrote one medic from Imam Ali hospital in a social media put up. “However that is the reality. Against the law is occurring and I can’t stay silent.”

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