"Sara": a victim of state violence in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election
“Sara” is one of the victims of 2009 post-election state violence in Iran. She was tortured and raped by the Islamic Republic’s government forces who wanted to arrest her brother charged with participating in the popular protests against the 2009 presidential election results. After suffering a great deal of sexual and mental abuse, she fled the country. 2009 was not the first time Sara was targeted by security forces; she had endured torture during the student protests of 1999. Sara was interviewed by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation in August 2010. For security reasons, this interview is published under a pseudonym.
The 1999 Student Protests
I was born in Tehran in 1978. I graduated [with a degree] in English translation.
During the student protests on 12 July 1999, I had gone to Enqelab Square to buy a book. It was very busy in Enqelab Square and the streets around Tehran University. There were many plainclothes forces and police present in the area.
I had gone into a public telephone kiosk to call my family when I was attacked by one of the officers. He yelled at me to leave. I could not move my legs and stood there frozen in fear. He then pushed me and I fell. As I attempted to pick up my books from the ground, he pressed his foot on my hand, kicked me on the side and started to beat me up. I was taken to a hospital thanks to some passersby who came to my aid. At the hospital, I discovered that my spleen had burst due to being kicked. My family wanted to file a complaint, but they threatened my mother telling her that it would be wiser for my family not to complain. I was in the hospital for two weeks because of my ripped spleen and ended up in surgery with 21 stitches in my spleen.
For that reason, I, my mother, sister and brother took part in the demonstrations every year on the anniversary of 9 July.
The 2009 Presidential Elections
I was not in Iran when the 2009 elections took place. I was in Dubai for work.
I returned to Iran on 23 June and went to our home in Tehran. From then on, I went to the streets with my brother and a group of friends to participate in the protests.
It was 31 July, less than two months after the election, when I received a call from my mother while I was out. She asked me where I was. She did not sound normal and I worried lest something had happened to my father. I rushed home and saw that it had been ransacked. I asked my mother what had happened. She told me that they had identified my brother in the post-election clashes and had come to arrest him. Since my brother was not at home, they had seized some of our belongings, such as my brother’s computer, several books, documents, and family photo albums, and damaged many household items.
The officers had rang our bell, pretending to be postmen delivering a package. My mother went to the door to collect the package and they asked for my brother. When my mother told them that he was not at home, they pushed her aside. Two of them took the elevator and the other two climbed up the stairs and forced their way into our apartment. The officers were plainclothes men and did not show any warrants to search the house or arrest my brother. The officers had slapped my mother in the face as she protested and, when I got home, her face was red.
Three days later, on 3 August, the officers again raided our home. This time, I was at home with my parents. The officers smashed the door and entered. I was in the middle of my prayers, but stopped out of fear. They kept shouting and asking for my brother’s whereabouts. They proceeded to turn the place upside down searching for stuff to confiscate. One of them kicked a table, on top of which there was a picture of an uncle. The picture frame fell on the floor and the officer stamped on it. When I protested, one of the officers slapped me hard in the face saying that I had a big mouth and needed to be taught a lesson too. They then went into my parents’ room. I followed them. My father is in poor health. I told them to leave their room. But one of the officers pulled my hair from underneath my chador. My father approached the officer and told him to leave his daughter alone. But he pushed my father who fell to the floor hitting his head. My mother rushed towards my father while cursing the officers. They kicked my mother.
The First Detention
On that day, as the officers were leaving the house, they forcefully took me with them. They told my mother, “Tell your son to come and fetch his sister. We will not release your daughter until your son turns himself in. Don’t make any complaints or else we will hand you your daughter’s corpse.” I gestured to my parents not to say anything to my brother because it was obvious from their brutal behavior that my brother would face very harsh punishment if arrested.
The officers had come in a black patrol vehicle and a Samand [an Iranian-manufactured car]. They pushed me into the vehicle and held my head down. On the way, they constantly yelled insults at me and asked about my brother’s whereabouts. As we came close to where they were taking me, they put a blindfold on me and took me to a large room; it could have been a hall because I could hear many voices. I heard one of the officers saying, “He wasn’t there, so we have brought his sister.” I could hear the sound of many people being beaten up.
They then took me to a small room, furnished with a table and a couple of chairs. They began to interrogate me. The interrogator removed the blindfold and slapped me in the face a few times. He told me that I should cooperate and tell them whatever I know about my brother if I wanted to be released.
He then handed me a piece of paper and told me to write down my name and the names of my family members, as well as other details such as occupation and address.
Then he resumed asking questions about my brother. He was trying to find out what people he was in contact with, which organization he belonged to, and where he was hiding.
He continued to insult and beat me as he persisted with the interrogation. The interrogator kept hitting me in the face with a slipper. After an hour, he put a blindfold on me and left the room.
A few minutes later, another interrogator entered the room. The second interrogator asked the same questions as the first one, while adding, “You are spies for Israel, Britain, and America.”
The second interrogator beat me up even harder while persistently asking for my brother’s whereabouts. I could guess where my brother was but I would not tell them despite the continued beating. Finally, he said that he would do something that would force me to tell him everything. He took off his belt and proceeded to whip me. Then he took out his penis and tormented me by rubbing it against my face. He kept shouting, “you are a prostitute and a whore, and so is your brother. You and your brother have been in a [sexual] relationship.” He ignored my constant pleas and cries and continued to ask how many times I had slept with my brother. And, of course, he was using crude expressions when asking such questions – expressions that I still feel too ashamed to recall.
He beat me up so much until I confessed to an act that would not cross the mind of any normal human being. I said, “Well, if that is what you want, then sure. My brother and I had a [sexual] liaison.” He asked, “How many times? You must give us the details” I said, “once”, and continued to weep. But he was not convinced and continued to beat me up, while yelling, “You are lying. Tell us how many times you have slept together.” As he was whipping me, I caught hold of his belt for a few seconds. He reacted by saying, “Do you want to show me your strength?” Then he hit my head with his belt buckle. As a result, I felt that I could no longer even see the flickers of light from underneath the blindfold.
Finally, I told him that I had had over 15 liaisons with my brother. He then wanted to know the details, while hitting my chest and forcing me to lick his penis. As he moved his hands up my legs, I instinctively removed my blindfold and saw his face. He was one of the officers who had raided our home the second time when I was there. As I stared at him he hit me even harder, and said, “You wanted to see me? Then look. My name is Haj Sa’id and I am going to teach you a lesson you will never forget.” Haj Sa’id was a fat guy with a bushy beard. On his hands, he had cuts from old stab wounds.
As I knelt before him he kept hitting my ears until I felt that I had gone deaf. Months afterwards, I am still hard of hearing. I was semi conscious when Haj Sa’id raped me. He then left the room only to return a while later. I had lost consciousness and do not remember whether it was minutes or hours afterwards that he returned. He then proceeded to hit my bruises and cuts, while attempting to rape me again. At the same time, he kept repeating, “Where is your brother? You must confess to whatever I tell you. Confess that you have had sex with your brother, and since you have no respect for the Koran, you had wiped yourselves with it afterwards. And that your father was watching you and your brother while you were having sex.”
I was tormented more by these words than the physical torture. That individual had seen my ailing father and was aware of his condition. Yet he kept saying, “You must confess to whatever I tell you. You must confess that you are religiously and morally deviated and do not believe in God. You must attend our morality courses and inform us if you hear anything from the protest gatherings or your brother. We have a right to execute you if we see you committing the slightest offense.” I wrote all that down and he told me to sign it.
I think it was all because of what they had found in my brother’s computer about the meaning of religion, a few YouTube videos and probably some of his notes. I told him that it all belonged to my brother. But it made no difference to him. He subjected me to all kinds of torture. He raped me from top to bottom. When I returned home, I was unable to urinate comfortably and would burst into tears as a result of severe pain. Not only he had put his genitals inside me, he had even stuck up his arm deep into my body; I felt as if my intestines were coming out of my back, perhaps because of the acute pain I was experiencing.
I was subjected to interrogation and torture for almost three days. I was not really conscious at the time, especially since I was kept in darkness and subjected to persecution. I kept losing consciousness, yet he carried on. During those days, I was held in the same room and was only given water once, in which he defecated and said, “Drink it.” I was also given food once, but before I attempted to eat it, he started questioning me again about my brother and his whereabouts. And when I did not answer, he kicked the table and the food dropped on the floor. He expected me to pick the food off the floor and eat it. But I felt so sick that I no longer wanted to eat.
I was not allowed to visit the washroom either. Once I was holding my stomach in agony and he asked, “Do you need to use the washroom?” I said, “yes.” He responded, “You could relieve yourself right here in this room.” Once I had no choice but to relieve myself there. The last time he raped me, I felt acute pain, but my main concern was that I could have contracted some disease from that man. I kept thinking that a man who has done that to so many others must have many diseases.
On my last day there, Haj Sa’id and another person entered the room; blindfolded and took me out. I asked where they were taking me. They would not respond. I begged them to tell me. Haj Sa’id responded, “To a place you deserve.” I was so frightened that they were going to execute me. We got into a car. After some five minutes, they stopped the car and told me to get out. From the voices, I gathered that Haj Sa’id was next to me in the backseat and there were two others in the front seats. I still had the blindfold on and could not get out. So he kicked me out of the car, saying, “Go and show yourself to your brother. Tell him it would be in his interest to turn himself in. Otherwise, we will not leave you alone.” He went on to tell me to remain accessible and that they would contact me when necessary.
When I opened my eyes I realized it was night and that I was on a small road off the Chamran Highway. I managed to get a lift from a car that was going in the direction of our house. The driver looked shocked by my appearance and kept asking me, “Lady, what has happened to you?” But I remained silent and begged him to drive me to our house.
My mother opened the door. My ailing father, who had not eaten since they had taken me away, was awake. I cried as I hugged him, and felt that his body was hot with fever. I asked him why he had not eaten and he said because he was worried about me. He then lifted his shirt and I saw that the area around his liver, waist and stomach was covered in huge blisters, “shingles,” probably caused by shock.
After a few days, Haj Sa’id started calling me from time to time, asking, “Where are you? Have you heard from your brother?” and other similar questions. On two occasions I was at home and he told me that he was on his way to our house. But he did not turn up. Once, I was out and he told me to stay put because he was coming to pick me up. He and another person drove by at a very low speed but did not stop. And once, he arranged to meet me in front of Laleh Hotel saying that I had to answer a few questions. But, again, he did not show up. Throughout this period, my brother continued to remain in hiding in Iran. To prevent his arrest, I gave into every demand of Haj Sa’id.
The Summon and Constant Interrogations
Two months later, on 6 October, Haj Sa’id arranged to meet me on Ozgol [a street in Tehran]. It was the day my brother intended to leave Iran, and I had gone to buy him a sweater and see him off. I took a cab and gave the sweater to the driver asking him to deliver it to our home address. Then I left for the meeting with Haj Sa’id. Every time he made an appointment with me I had to go; I feared that by not turning up he might put more pressure on my family to track down my brother. My meetings with Haj Sa’id were filled with terror, beatings and rape. I had signed up to attend their morality course. These appointments were not even a part of that morality course; they constituted the entire course.
When I got into the car, he told me to lower my head. Then he handed me a blindfold and told me to put it on. We then went to a nearby villa, where he repeated a few questions, such as where my brother was or whether anyone had contacted me. But they were all excuses. In fact, he had brought me to that villa to rape me. I could hear other voices inside that building but did not see anyone. He was the only one who raped me. After the rape, he put me in a car and dropped me off in some street. I could not even tell my mother what Haj Sa’id had done.
My brother and I had been raised together since childhood and were very close in age. On seeing him at the airport, I felt like giving him a big hug and crying. But I only watched him from a distance and headed home once he had gone.
I felt relieved when my brother left Iran. I once again became daring. What they had done to me made me want to get revenge.
I joined my friends for the 4 November protest. Then I made a decision to leave Iran with a friend. I left for Dubai. A few days later, my mother contacted me. She said they had phoned me several times, and noticing that my cell phone was switched off, they had gone to my sister’s house. They had ransacked her house and threatened my family, telling them to get me to come back from wherever I was. Since they had earlier threatened not to have mercy on my little niece, I decided to return to Iran.
A few days later, Haj Sa’id contacted me and asked where I had been. I told him that I had gone to stay with relatives for a few days. Luckily, he had not realized that I had been out of Iran.
On 21 December, a friend and I went to Qom under the pretext of attending Mr. Montazeri’s funeral. My mother was really worried and begged me not to go. She said I would be putting my life in danger. But I was past caring. They had separated my brother from us and made him homeless. I was tortured and raped. Nothing mattered to me anymore. At 4:30 am, we left Tehran for Qom. We had breakfast at a hotel and walked to Mr Montazeri’s residence. Government forces were filming the crowd, using professional cameras installed on electricity poles and rooftops.
Groups of plainclothes men and government forces lined the streets prior to the funeral ceremony, showing no reaction to the crowd’s chants of slogans. After the funeral, the crowd moved toward Mr. Montazeri’s residence. And, gradually, clashes erupted between the government forces and people.
Haj Sa’id contacted me on the evening of Mr. Montazeri’s funeral. I had just arrived home. He said, “Where are you?” I told him I was at home. He asked, “Where were you this morning? Did you go to Qom?” I said, “No. I was at home.” He then said, “Come to Tajrish. I will see you there.”
I went to Tajrish. But then he called me again and told me to go to Pasdaran Junction. It was getting dark when he phoned again and gave me the address of a pizza place in Pasdaran. He told me to wait outside the pizza place for him. I waited until he came and drove me to some nearby building. He took me to a room where the two of us were alone, although I could hear other voices in the building. Haj Sa’id then beat me up severely. He wanted to know if I had been to Qom, while also asking questions about my brother. On that night he subjected me to the worst kind of torture. After he had subjected me to torture and rape, he defecated and forced me to eat it.
Then he took me out with my face still covered in filth and put me in his car. On the way, he kept swearing at me and my family, using very crude words. He dropped me somewhere near my home and left. Haj Sa’id was very angry because of the anti-government slogans the people had chanted in Qom.
I made it home and went in through the garage entrance so that no-one would notice me. I washed my face in the garage and went in. My mother was upset that I had come home late without having told her. But I could not tell her anything or offer any kind of explanation.
On Ashura Day, 27 December, I joined a few friends, my sister and her husband, to go to Azadi Square and from there to Azadi Street, which was packed with government forces, who started firing tear gas at the people. I used my cell phone to take videos of the protests and clashes. Government forces were firing tear gas and attacking people on all surrounding roads and streets. The people had set garbage on fire to burn their [the security forces’] eyes with the smoke.
A large number of government motorcyclists came towards Yadegar Imam Street. I was standing on the Yadegar Bridge at the time, chanting ‘Death to Khamene’i.’ One of the motorists hit me on the back and said come along. I told him I was heading home. But he brought me under the Yadegar Bridge by force, where he told one of his friends, “She was the leader and was chanting slogans against His Eminence.” I had an old national ID card in my purse, which he found. He took the ID card and asked a soldier to take me to one of the government vehicles in which they were taking arrested protestors to the detention center. Meanwhile, the public started to throw stones; the motorcyclists went in another direction and the soldier who was taking me used me as a shield to protect himself from the stones. As the crowd approached, I heard my friend calling and telling me to get away. Before I escaped, the soldier turned to me and said, “So they are all your friends who are attacking the security forces. Today is the last day of your life.”
I ran in the opposite direction to the bridge, while the soldier fled the scene to protect himself from the stones. A car was passing with three female passengers and a male driver. They stopped and offered me a lift. The driver’s leg was injured. I got home and told my mother what had happened. She told me not to stay at home and to flee to a friend’s house. I stayed with friends for a couple of days and then decided to leave Iran.
I left Iran, because this time they were bound to kill me - after extracting a false confession from me based on Haj Sa’id’s false claims that I had been involved in a sexual liaison with my brother, defiled the Koran, and chanted slogans against the supreme leader during protests. On 9 February, they put pressure on my family in a bid to track me down. Finally, it culminated in their confiscation of my national identity card. They told my mother that I was a mohareb [one who wages war against God], and if she helped me, she would be deemed an accessory to the crime. My biggest sadness is that if something happens to my family, I will not be able to go to Iran and see them.
I have been out of Iran for some 11 months now. I would like anyone who reads this account to understand that I did all that I could to save the lives of my brother and other family members. Sadly, however, there are some individuals who tell me that it would have been better if I had committed suicide because I had let myself become, Haj Sa’id’s toy, even after I had left prison. I, my brother, and others like us, became involved in those protests to defend the rights of individuals in our society and to show that we do not want the blood of those killed by the regime to have been shed in vain. I had no choice but to sacrifice myself to save the lives of those I hold dear.