Since the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, Iran has been the scene of fierce protests. The slogan “Women, life, freedom” continues to resonate within the Islamic Republic. Defending their right to freedom, women play an immense role in this uprising. Many are those who multiply strong gestures and who challenge the police. Faced with so much courage, some religious and politicians have called for the relaxation of social rules. But others have decreed that these “free women” were mere puppets of Western governments. These accusations encouraged the emergence of a vast campaign of verbal and physical denigration. Numerous videos and photos published on social networks revealed in particular the sexual assaults committed by the Iranian security forces against the demonstrators. These images shocked public opinion and brought to light reports of similar events in prisons.
A climate of extreme fear reigns in Iran as the crackdown intensifies. The Iranian government regularly shuts down the internet and suppresses opposition voices through mass arrests. Journalists’ access inside Iran is also severely restricted, CNN traveled near the Iraqi border with Iran to meet witnesses to the violence. The stories have multiplied and have confirmed that sexual assaults are regularly filmed in order to force the victims into silence. Since the beginning of the demonstrations, it is therefore difficult to have access to testimonies.
The case of Armita Abbasi, a new face of Iranian repression
Armita Abbasi is platinum blonde and has several piercings on her face. Made up with red lipstick and smoky eyes, she represents everything the regime despises most. Armita Abbasi was arrested in her hometown of Karaj, a month after the protests began. The 20-year-old is said to have stepped up criticism of the government on social media. On October 17, Abbasi was rushed to Imam Ali Hospital in Karaj, accompanied by plainclothes officers, according to leaks from that hospital. Her head had been shaved and she was shaking violently. In an October 29 statement, the government tried to clear the way, claiming she was “the leader of the riots” and that the police had discovered “10 Molotov cocktails” in her apartment.
4/The Chief Justice of Alborz Province confirmed her arrest, claiming Molotov cocktails were found in her house. His justification for Armita’s hospitalization was “digestive problems.”
The world should hold the Islamic Republic accountable for the life of #ArmitaAbbasi. pic.twitter.com/qe63NUei44
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) October 31, 2022
The medical staff who attended to her testified to ample evidence of a brutal rape. “When she arrived, (officers) said she was bleeding from the rectum…due to repeated rapes. The men in civilian clothes insisted that the doctor write it down as rape before the arrest”said a member of the medical staff who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons. “After the truth became obvious to everyone, they changed the whole script”, wrote the doctor. CNN can confirm that four to five doctors said they believed she had been sexually assaulted in custody. “It is not my intention to spread fear and horror. But it is the truth. A crime is happening and I cannot remain silent.” another doctor said. Another statement also attests to the miserable state in which the hospital recovered Armita Abbasi: “She felt so bad that we thought she had cancer.”
Faced with so many verified accounts, CNN sent a request for comment to the authorities. In its statement, the Iranian government said Abbasi had been treated for “digestive problems”. Doctors at Imam Ali Hospital said that claim did not match the symptoms Abbasi exhibited.
The leaks surrounding the Armita Abbasi case reveal a top-secret process, heavily controlled by the Iranian government. In particular, a doctor wrote on social media that the police were preventing staff from speaking to Ms Abbasi and that the report on her condition was constantly changing. When CNN called the Imam Ali Hospital, a staff member said he had no record of her, although the government acknowledges that she was treated there. According to authorities, Abbasi is currently being held in the notorious Fardis prison in Karaj. CNN could not reach her or her family members for comment.
Other damning testimonies
A Kurdish-Iranian woman, whom CNN calls Hana for her safety, claims to have witnessed and experienced sexual violence while in custody. Arrested by Iranian police for burning her headscarf, she said she was detained for 24 hours in a detention center located in a police station in the city of Urmia, in northwestern Iran. “In the detention center there are about 30 to 40 women and the rest are boys”says Hana. “There were children aged 13 and 14 who were captured during the protests. They were brutally injured. They hurt the girls even more. They raped them.” “There was a main hall with private interrogation rooms next to it,” she said. “An officer would pick up a pretty girl, and he would go into a room to be alone with her and sexually assault her.”
In its report, CNN recounts that a white scarf wrapped around her neck covers a purple mark where a security guard forced her to follow him, she said, and violently kissed her. In the interrogation cell, the police officer would have dangled promises of freedom in exchange for sexual favors.