Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Promoting tolerance and justice through knowledge and understanding
Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

Surviving Rape in Iran's Prisons

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center
Iran Human Rights Documentation Center
June 1, 2011

I. Introduction

Allegations of rape and sexual violence of political prisoners by authorities began to emerge after the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979 and have continued, to varying degrees, to the present. However, not surprisingly, there is no reliable estimate of the number of prisoners raped in the Islamic Republic’s prisons; no data or comprehensive report has ever been compiled that portrays the full scope of sexual violence in Iran’s prisons. The reasons are simple: few rape victims are willing to speak about their experiences due to (1) government pressure and acquiescence, and (2) social stigma. Iranian authorities have and continue to acquiesce to rapes of prisoners by guards and interrogators who use rape to crush detainees' spirits, inflict humiliation, discourage their dissent, force them to confess to crimes, and ultimately to intimidate them and others.

Rape is always traumatic and has long-term physical, psychological and social effects on victims. Understandably, this means that many victims are unable to publicly acknowledge their experiences, even many years later.1 Many have never even told their families. Given these circumstances, therefore, it is very likely that the few witnesses who have come forward to report rapes they witnessed and experienced in Iranian prisons represent only a small percentage of the total number of cases.

This report documents the ordeals of five former prisoners – two women and three men. They span the almost 30 years of the Islamic Republic’s existence. Four witnesses were raped; one was threatened with rape and saw rape victims. Three of the rape victims were politically active, one in the early days of the revolution and the other two during the last few years. All experienced overtly violent and gang rape. One of the victims in addition to being ganged raped, was sexually exploited by a guard. All were traumatized and some considered suicide.

IHRDC has interviewed many former prisoners who were raped or threatened with rape in Iranian prisons. While many chose to not tell their stories publicly, we wish to express our heartfelt understanding and thank you to all who agreed to speak with us about their experiences.

[1] See Golnaz Esfandiari, New Prison rape allegations in Iran Bring practice to light, RADIO FREE EUROPE, Aug. 26, 2009,available at http://www.rferl.org/articleprintview/1808311.html (last visited June 3, 2011).


I. Rape and Sexual Abuse in Iran’s Prisons since 1979

Numerous reports of rape and sexual violence of detainees by Iranian authorities surfaced after the June 12, 2009 presidential election.2 For example, a teenager using the name “Ardeshir” described his detention in an unofficial detention center where he was repeatedly raped and watched others being taken from cells to be raped.3 A young woman using the name “Sara” reported being repeatedly raped by her interrogator after refusing to disclose the whereabouts of her brother. She reported that her interrogator raped her “from top to bottom” and “stuck up his arm deep into her body.” She was forced to falsely confess to having sexual intercourse with her brother. Her interrogator continued to summon and rape her after her release from prison. 4

A teenager using the name “Reza” told of his arrest with 40 other boys during an opposition demonstration in a “large provincial city.” Reza was raped as the other boys watched. After he reported the rape to his interrogator, his interrogator raped him so he would learn not to tell such tales anywhere else.5 An alleged former Basij member reported that rape of detainees was a reward conferred on Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enqelab-e Eslami or Sepah) and Basij members for crushing the demonstrations. He told how he and a relative came to realize that Basij members were raping children who had been arrested. When his relative confronted the senior officer, he “calmly replied with a smile: “This is Fath Al Moin [aid to victory]. It’s a worthy deed. There’s nothing wrong with it. Why are you complaining?’” 6

It soon became public that many demonstrators were detained and severely mistreated at the Kahrizak Detention Center outside Tehran. A former detainee reported hearing screams of younger and quieter detainees being raped. Mehdi Karroubi, a former speaker of the Majlis, and a presidential candidate in 2009, published a letter to Ayatollah Rafsanjani, then-head of the Expediency Council, alleging torture and sexual abuse of post-election detainees, and the regime closed the facility. However, as noted by the Iranian lawyer Shadi Sadr, this wave of rapes was not an “incident.” It was a continuation of practices that had existed since the 1979 revolution.8

During the early days after the revolution, many young men and women were imprisoned for political activities, and/or being members of ethnic or religious minorities, and charged with minor offenses.9 There were reports of interrogators raping and sexually molesting prisoners. For example, Amnesty

[2] See IRAN HUMAN RIGHTS DOCUMENTATION CENTER (IHRDC), VIOLENT AFTERMATH: THE 2009 ELECTION AND SUPPRESSION OF DISSENT IN IRAN 47-48 (2010), available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/reports/3161-violent-aftermath-the-2009-election-and-suppression-of-dissent-in-iran.html [hereinafter VIOLENT AFTERMATH]..

[3] Martin Fletcher and Special Correspondent in Tehran, Raped and beaten for daring to question President Ahmadinejad’s election, THE TIMES, Sept. 11, 2009, available at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6829921.ece.

[4] HUMAN RIGHTS & DEMOCRACY LIBRARY, Boroumand Foundation Interview of “Sara,” available athttp://www.iranrights.org/english/document-1512.php.

[5] Homa Homayoun, Iranian Boy who defied Tehran hardliners tells of prison rape ordeal, THE TIMES, Aug. 22, 2009, available at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6805885.ece.

[6] Lindsey Hilsum, Iran militia man, ‘I hope God forgives me,’ Dec. 16, 2009, available at http://www.channel4.com/news/iran-militia-man-i-hope-god-forgives-me.

[7] See VIOLENT AFTERMATH, supra note 2, at 51; Letter from Mehdi Karroubi to Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, Head of the Expediency Council (July 31, 2009), English translation available athttp://khordaad88.com/?p=75.

[8] Shadi Sadr, Feminist Attorney Speaks Out Against Rape As a Weapon of Torture in Iran [translated by Frieda Afary],PAYVAND IRAN NEWS, Sept. 8, 2009, available athttp://www.payvand.com/news/09/sep/1080.html.



II. Prison Rape Violates International and Iranian Law

Although rape is a crime in the Islamic Republic, as noted by the United Nation Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, the evidentiary standards are high and difficult to prove. In 2005, she noted that “[a] victim of rape can only prove her claim by presenting several male witnesses.” She described a case where the rape victim was unable to meet this threshold and therefore was charged with adultery.44 The evidentiary requirements are even more difficult to meet for victims in prison.

Prison rape constitutes an act of torture, which is absolutely prohibited under both Iranian and international human rights law. Article 38 of the Iranian Constitution provides that "all forms of torture for the purpose of extracting confessions or acquiring information are forbidden.”45 The international prohibition against torture is codified in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).46 It is also set forth in several other international instruments including Article 7 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”47 While the Islamic Republic has declined to be a party to CAT, its authorities are still obligated to respect the Convention’s terms as it merely codified the already-existing universal prohibition against torture.48

Torture is defined in CAT as

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession . . . when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.49

The U.N. Special Rapporteurs on Torture have consistently noted that rape in prison is torture.50For example, the first Rapporteur included rape as a method of physical torture in his 1986 report51 and reiterated his position in 1992:

Since it was clear that rape or other sexual assaults against woman in detention were a particular ignominious violation of the inherent dignity and the right to physical integrity of the human being, they accordingly constituted an act of torture.52

[44] See ECOSOC, Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Yakin Erturk, ¶ 56, U.N. Doc. E/CN.u/2006/61/add.3 (Jan. 27, 2006), available athttp://www.universalhumanrightsindex.org/documents/848/822/document/en/text.html.
[45] Qanun-i Assasiyih Jumhuriyih Islamiyih Iran [Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran] 1358 [adopted 1979, amended 1989], art. 38.
[46] Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, GA res. 39/46, annex, 39 UN GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, UN Doc. A/39/51 (1984); 1465 UNTS 85, available at aadel.iranhrdc.org [hereinafter Convention Against Torture or CAT].
[47] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 7, Mar. 23, 1976, 999 U.N.T.S. 171 [hereinafter ICCPR]. Iran signed the ICCPR on April 4, 1968 and ratified the agreement on June 24, 1975 without reservations.
[48] See Renee C. Redman, Defining “Torture”: The Collateral Effect on Immigration Law of the Attorney General’s Narrow Interpretation of “Specifically Intended” When Applied to United States Interrogators, 62 N.Y. UNIV. ANNUAL SURVEY OF AM. LAW 465, 470 (2007).
[49] Convention Against Torture, supra note 46, art. 1.
[50] The U.N. Commission on Human Rights first appointed a special Rapporteur to “examine questions relevant to torture” in 1985. In 2008, the mandate was extended for three years. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights,Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/torture/rapporteur/index.htm.
[51] ECOSOC, Commission on Human Rights, Report by the Special Rapporteur, Mr. P. Kooijmans, ¶ 119, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1986/15 (Feb. 19, 1986), available athttp://ap.ohchr.org/documents/E/CHR/report/E-CN_4-1986-15.pdf.


Witness Statement of Saeeda Siabi

Name: Saeeda Siabi

Place of Birth: Azerbaijan, Iran

Date of Birth: July 11, 1960

Occupation: Housewife

Interviewing Organization: Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC)

Date of Interview: January 19, 2011

Interviewer: IHRDC Staff

This statement was prepared pursuant to an interview with Saeeda Siabi. It was approved by Ms. Siabi on May 28, 2011.



1. My name is Saeeda Siabi. I’m from Azerbaijan, Iran. On December 22, 1981, I was arrested with my husband and my four month old son. I spent four and a half years in prison, and suffered severe mistreatment, sexual harassment and rape during interrogation.

2. It’s painful to remember the bitter memories of the past. I’ve forgotten some incidents that happened to me in prison 29 years ago but there are things that I can never forget. Today, I would like to share with you some of those bitter memories.

3. I grew up in a politically active family. My husband and I were both political activists. Like our families, we were engaged in political activities against the Islamic Republic right from the inception of the regime. We believed that the establishment of a clerical system was a step backward for the Iranian people. We believed the clerics were ignorant, savage and barbaric people who would lead our beloved country to destruction. Thus, both of our families were against the regime.

4. The early years of the revolution were very difficult years for all Iranians. The regime brutally targeted the opposition. They arrested, tortured, decapitated and executed them. The regime gradually curtailed the political freedom of political activists.

5. Due to financial hardship, I was living with my sister and brother-in-law, a newly married couple, in a house in Tabriz city. After a while, we understood that it was unsafe for us to live in that house. Therefore, we started looking for a new house.

6. Realizing the imminent danger and that our comrades had been arrested, my brother-in-law and sister left the house. My husband and I looked for a new house. Meanwhile, one of our comrades who were arrested betrayed us and gave our address while under torture. Thus, my husband and I were arrested.


7. It was 4:30 in the morning. I was awake breastfeeding my baby. We had a guest, a young guy, that night, too. Because oil was rationed and we did not have extra oil, he was sleeping with us in the same room. We could hardly heat one room. Around that time, I suddenly heard beating on all the doors and then a rush of footsteps on the stairs and roof. I looked outside and saw that IRGC guards were everywhere. We lived on a dead end road. The street was full of guards.

8. Immediately, the IRGC entered my house. They were armed. Without questioning, they arrested everyone including our young guest. I asked the reasons for my arrest. They said, “Madam! We have a question for you and you’ll be back soon. There is no need to worry.” It was the common lie they told everybody who was arrested during those years. We all knew it.

9. They searched our house thoroughly, even inside our shoes. We had placed a Tofan party’s publication in a pressure cooker. They found it and took it with them. Half an hour later, they took us out of the house, blindfolded us and made us sit in a Pikan car. They didn’t allow me to put on my shoes. They took me with sandals. They separated us and put us in different cars and blindfolded us. Before covering my eyes, I noticed in a blink that there were four cars ahead of us and four behind us in front of the house. They drove us to a Sepah center. Some guards stayed in our home though. Later we found out that they arrested everyone who had happened to visit us. They believed it was a team house.


Witness Statement of Mojtaba Saminejad

Name: Mojtaba Saminejad

Place of Birth: Tehran, Iran

Date of Birth: September 30, 1980

Occupation:: Blogger, journalist, human rights activist

Interviewing Organization: Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC)

Date of Interview: February 4, 2011

Interviewer: IHRDC Staff

This statement was prepared pursuant to an interview with Mojtaba Saminejad. It was approved by Mr. Saminejad on May 18, 2011.


1. My name is Mojtaba Saminejad. I was born on September 30, 1980. I was a student of journalism and communication at Tehran University.

2. I was arrested twice. The first time was on October31, 2004 and I was released after 88 days on bail. Two weeks later, on February 12, 2005, I was arrested again and remained in prison for 21 months.

3. The first time I was arrested for exposing the detention of three bloggers on my blog. However, they charged me with other offenses later for articles that I had written in my blog. Some charges were very serious like insulting the Prophet Mohammad, which if proven, is punishable by death, insulting Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khāmene’i, crimes of national security, disturbing public opinion, propaganda against the Islamic Republic and above all, the crime of insulting to Prophet Mohammad.

4. It was around 8 p.m. when I was arrested the first time. I was at home with my mother, one of my brothers and a friend. Four people came at the door and asked for me. I went to see who they were. They showed me my picture and asked if it was me. I confirmed that it was. They showed me a dossier that contained my writings and introduced themselves as law enforcement officers. They forced their way in and said they wanted to search the house. I asked for a warrant. They did not show one. My mother and I asked them again about a search warrant and who they were. But they said they were from law enforcement. One of them introduced himself as Mr. Tehrani.

5. Later, during my interrogation and conversations with my interrogators, I found out that they belonged to a special committee established unlawfully by Sepah (Iran Revolutionary Guard Council, IRGC) under the direction of Judge Sayeed Mortazavi and Judge Moghadis (assassinated later) to fight internet crime and to suppress bloggers.

6. This committee called “Internet Office” was not officially established. Nonetheless, it was active and targeted bloggers. I had written an article about their unlawful activities in my blog before my arrest. The media somehow knew about it but the government did not officially confirm its existence.

7. They searched my home extensively for one and a half hours. During their search, my father arrived. He also asked them for a search warrant but they did not show one. They cursed and insulted us during the search and threatened me. One of them forced me to get into my blog and change its content. They particularly wanted me to deny that three bloggers had been arrested for political reasons and to report that they were arrested for drinking at a night party. I didn’t write it. One of them wanted to use force and violence. My mother and brother stopped him. He said that I’d be imprisoned for years if I did not change the content of my blog. I wrote what he asked me to write but wrote it in such a way as to make readers smell a rat. For instance, I wrote that I was going to Shiraz to participate in a book exhibition. It was the month of Ramadan and everybody knew that book exhibitions would not be held during that month.

8. I believe that even if I denied the arrest of the three bloggers, I would not have been released. They had come to arrest me. They collected all my personal documents during the search.


Witness Statement of Maryam Sabri

Name: Maryam Sabri

Place of Birth: Tehran, Iran

Date of Birth: 1988

Occupation: Business

Interviewing Organization: Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC)

Date of Interview: December 3, 2009

Interviewer: IHRDC Staff

This statement was prepared pursuant to an interview with Maryam Sabri. It was approved by Maryam Sabri on November 9, 2010.



1. My name is Maryam Sabri. I’m twenty one years old and worked for a boating company before leaving Iran.

2. I was admitted to Tehran’s Art University in 2006 and became a member of the political council of the University. I did not belong to any specific political party and did not have vast political activities at the University. I participated in nonpolitical programs and demonstrations on the campus. Nevertheless, the Protection Office of the University, an intelligence unit of the university, decided to expel me temporarily from the university in 2007 and later stated in a letter that I did not have permission to attend my classes anymore. Thus, I was expelled permanently from the University a year after I was admitted.

3. I became politically active during the 2009 Presidential Election. After participating in the demonstration, I was arrested by plainclothes agents, transferred to an unknown detention center, where I was mistreated and repeatedly raped.


4. I was hesitant at the beginning to vote in the 2009 Presidential Election. I was even advocating for boycotting the election. I believed that voting would imply that we were happy with the system, but when Khatami came forward and introduced Mousavi and asked people to support him, I changed my position. I became hopeful and thought if Mousavi gets elected; society will open up like it did in Khatami’s reform era. Therefore, I joined the Mousavi campaign in Tehran and advocated for him. I was usually out every night when Mousavi had a debate. The passion and the enthusiasm among the people were promising. People chanted “Ahmadi, bye bye” because they were certain that Ahmadinejad would lose the election

5. Our hopes were crushed, however. The Islamic Republic used us as a toy. We voted but the regime had decided in advance who the winner would be. Voting was just a game that the regime played with us. We went to the street to declare that we had been robbed of our votes and to show our discontent with the election result. We urged supporters of Mousavi and Karroubi to come out and demonstrate that we were more than the number of people the regime claimed voted for Mousavi and Karroubi.


Witness Statement of Matin Yar

Name: Matin Yar (pseudonym)

Place of Birth: Esfahan, Iran

Date of Birth: 1987

Interviewing Organization: Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC)

Date of Interview: April 17, 2010

Interviewer: IHRDC Staff

This statement was prepared pursuant to an interview with Matin Yar. The statement was approved by Matin on October 5, 2010.


My Early Life

1. My name is Matin Yar and I am twenty four years old. I was born in Esfahan, Iran in 1987 and was a university student there when I fled the country 17 months ago. I left the country because I was imprisoned, tortured and raped in prison, and because of fear of execution at the hands of the Islamic Republic. I faced these forms of persecution because government officials discovered that I am homosexual and under Iranian law, homosexuality is a crime punishable by death.

2. Sometime between the ages of nine and twelve, I realized that I had fundamentally different feelings towards my male friends than other boys my age. While other boys felt mere friendship, I felt a deeper attraction. At first, I believed I suffered from a disease of the mind and blamed myself for what I perceived to be immoral feelings; with time and maturation, I came to realize that nobody was to blame for my feelings because they were not fundamentally wrong. I accepted that I was homosexual and that there was nothing I could do but accept it.

3. Throughout my adult life, I was forced to keep my homosexuality a secret. I think my mother may have suspected there was something different about me but I never volunteered my secret to her or to the rest of my family. I kept my homosexuality to myself because I was afraid my family would disown me for feelings I could not control. Keeping such a secret from my family had an injurious impact on me both physically and psychologically; it was a very difficult time in my life.

My Arrest

4. In 2007, a group of four or five of my homosexual friends and I decided to go for a walk at a local garden in the province of Esfahan. While in a secluded garden, we acted recklessly by taking part in homosexual activities. People in an adjacent garden saw us engaged in the homosexual acts and attacked us. After a brief skirmish, our attackers reported the homosexual acts to the father of one of the boys in my group. The boy’s father subsequently filed a complaint against all of us with the local police.

5. The Esfahan police summoned me to their barracks about a week after the incident for questioning. The Esfahan police were notorious for their cruel and sadistic treatment of prisoners. Upon introducing myself at the station, I was detained and taken into a cell block administered by the detective branch for interrogation.

My First Stint in Detention

6. I was held in a detention facility in Esfahan province for two to three weeks during which time I was interrogated by local authorities. My interrogators wanted me to confess to “Lewat” (involvement in homosexual activity with men) and to being homosexual; they also wanted information about the locations where homosexuals in Esfahan congregate. Even though I made it clear that I was not privy to the information the authorities sought, I was tortured by my captors.


Witness Statement of Sorrour

Name: (pseudonym)

Place of Birth: Mahabad, Iran

Date of Birth: 1984

Occupation:: Kurdish Activist

Interviewing Organization: Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC)

Date of Interview: February 27, 2011

Interviewer: IHRDC Staff

This statement was prepared pursuant to an interview with Sorrour. It was approved by Sorrour on May 30, 2011.


1. My name is Sorrour. I was a resident of Mahabad, a Kurdish city in Western Azarbaijan, Iran. I currently live in Turkey.

2. I left Iran for two reasons. The first reason was the serious troubles that my father, with the assistance of the Islamic Republic, created for my mother and me. The second one was because of a rape assault on me while in police custody in Tabriz.

3. My father belongs to the Mangur tribe of Kurds and is a military person that we call “Jash” in Kurdish. My grandfather had moved to Mahabad a long time ago. The Mangurs live mainly in the central parts of Mahabad. Mangur men are traditionally involved in military activities. Therefore, my father’s family has been a military family for generations. Most of the Mangurs are supporters of the Islamic Republic and consider themselves more Iranian than Kurds. However, physically they look like Kurdish people and speak Kurdish with a regional dialect.

4. My father is a Basij, a voluntary paramilitary force under the command of the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps. I saw his membership card one day in his pocket. My friends, however, had told me before that my father was a Basij as they had spotted him in a military parade; I did not believe them until I saw his ID card. My father occasionally went on duty and disappeared for one or two nights. When we asked him where he was, he gave different excuses to cover up his activities. When he went on a mission, a car would come and pick him up. When he was home, he worked as a carpenter, boutique businessmen, welder and aluminum constructor, and performed some other manual jobs.

5. My mom was a Kurdish activist like my older brother and supported Komilaand the Kurdistan Democratic Party which are leftist Kurdish organizations active in Iranian Kurdistan.

6. Thus, my father did not have good relationships with my mother and older brother. They used to fight with each other. Their relationship deteriorated particularly after my mother left my father. He started to abuse and mistreat her even more than before.

7. I have very painful and horrible memories of my father. He was responsible for having me arrested, tortured and raped by the Iranian police forces.

8. When I returned from military service, I saw that my father and mother had separated. My mother had gone to live with my older brother and informed him of the abuses she had suffered at the hand of my father. Then, we decided to move and live with my grandmother and under the protection of my mother’s brother. Life was not easy there either. I ran into serious trouble there too. I had a fight and my foot was broken, my hands were cut by a knife, my eye was injured, and my head was wounded.

9. Then my mother and I went to Tabriz to live away from my father’s reach. Nevertheless, he found us there four or five months later. He came to our home and threatened us and cursed my mom. I tried to stop him from cursing and insulting us. He wounded me with a sharp knife and cut my hand and throat. Then I heard an ambulance come. I was arrested and taken to a police station that was in the vicinity of my rented house.