CNN investigates feminine and male protesters’ accounts of sexual assault in Iranian detention facilities

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

… then the officer would take one in every of them from the cell to a smaller, non-public 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 by a usually busy border crossing within the mountains of northern Iraq. “It’s an enormous 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.

Concern of indiscriminate arrest has made many reluctant to danger the journey. A number 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, 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 lady, whom CNN is looking Hana for her security, says she each witnessed and suffered sexual violence whereas detained. “There have been women who have 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 Photographs

Girls have performed a central position in Iran’s rebellion because it ignited two months in the past. The slogan “Girls, Life, Freedom” reverberates by 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 stress-free of social guidelines, whereas others doubled down, conflating the feminine protesters with what they name “free girls” who have been merely pawns in a plot hatched by Western governments.

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

In latest weeks, social media movies have emerged allegedly exhibiting Iranian safety forces sexually assaulting feminine demonstrators on the streets. Experiences 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 stories of sexual violence towards protesters and heard accounts of many extra. Not less than one in every of these triggered extreme damage, 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 accordance 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 lounge.

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 underneath Abbasi’s identify grew to become 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, almost 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 condominium.

It was an ominous assertion that appeared to indicate that Iran’s justice system would reserve a harsh punishment for the 20-year-old. Nevertheless 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 non-public 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 accordance 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 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 got here in, (the officers) mentioned she was hemorrhaging from her rectum… attributable to 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 grew to become apparent to all, they modified the entire script,” wrote the medic. CNN can affirm 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 find out 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 that they had no report 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 by 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 present being held in Karaj’s infamous Fardis jail, in accordance with the Iranian authorities. CNN has been unable to achieve her or her members of the family for remark.


Earlier than Hana was arrested, she had been warned that girls in Iranian prisons have 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 “underneath 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 headband within the air earlier than burning it, in what has turn into a ritualistic function 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 middle at a police station in Iran’s northwestern metropolis of Urmia for twenty-four hours.

In contrast to 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 the border area’s mountains. Solely 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 kinfolk 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.

Outdoors 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 struggle had damaged out, distracting the policeman.

“They are going to threaten (the girl) to not discuss concerning 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 throughout 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 that they had 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. Lots of these held on the station have been denied bail and disappeared right into a labyrinthine jail system which incorporates secret detention facilities in army bases, in accordance with sources and rights teams. Kurdish rights teams have repeatedly reported that tons of of individuals have been forcibly disappeared within the Kurdish areas of Iran, and have documented proof of secret detention facilities in army 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 stories 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 giant 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, 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 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 almost 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 mates have been raped and electrocuted in detention after they have been arrested within the protests. Testimonies heard by CNN counsel 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 boys.”

A safety guard overheard the dialog concerning 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 boys.”

— 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 situations of sexual assault in prisons for the reason that onset of the protests in mid-September.

The pinnacle of the Kurdistan Human Rights community, Rebin Rahmani, instructed CNN that two girls in detention, with whom he spoke, have been threatened with the rape of their teenage sisters as a method of pressuring them into giving a pressured TV confession. In a kind 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 girl 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 turn into public data if the medics had not leaked the main points to the press and to social media.

“I’m not attempting 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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