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2 Iranian dissidents say they were raped in captivity

By Ivan Watson and Noushin Seiyed Hoseiny Novin


Friday, October 2, 2009

Story Highlights

  • Two expatriate Iranians allege rapes in graphic detail
  • Male, female Iranian dissidents give separate interviews to CNN
  • Both are in Turkey, claiming they fled after threats from security services
  • They were arrested after disputed June 12 presidential election

Editor's Note: Be aware that the following story contains graphic accounts of rapes. CNN does not normally identify alleged rape victims but did so in this dispatch with the permission of the alleged victims.

ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) — Two Iranians who were caught up in the waves of arrests that followed the disputed presidential elections in June have accused their captors of raping them.

An Iranian man and a woman made the allegations in separate interviews with CNN. Both said they fled to Turkey from Iran after claiming to have been threatened by Iranian security services. While CNN does not normally use the names of alleged rape victims, their names are included here with their permission.

CNN could not independently confirm their accounts. But the testimony of one of the alleged rape victims, Ibrahim Sharifi, was revealed last month by a prominent Iranian opposition leader who claimed to have gathered at least four accounts of sexual assault this summer in Iranian prisons. Sharifi's allegations were also included in a report published last week by two Western human rights organizations investigating reports of abuse in Iranian prisons.

"What we're encountering are numerous accounts of brutality, poor treatment, even torture, serious beatings, and a couple of cases, as you know, of alleged sexual assault — rape," said Joe Stork, Middle East deputy director for Human Rights Watch.

The Iranian government has launched two investigations into the allegations. Iran's judiciary concluded there was no evidence of rape. A parliamentary fact-finding committee is still working on the issue.

Repeated calls by CNN to get reaction from Iranian officials to the claims of the alleged victims did not result in a response.

"Take him and get him pregnant"

Twenty-four-year-old Ibrahim Sharifi is a university student from Tehran who campaigned actively on the Internet for opposition presidential candidate Mehdi Karrubi in the run-up to the controversial June 12 vote.

When incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared winner, Sharifi joined the throngs of angry protesters in the streets who accused the government of rigging the election.

On June 22, Sharifi said, he was kidnapped, handcuffed, blindfolded and stuffed into a car by three unknown men while he was walking home from language lessons at the Italian Embassy. He said they drove him to an unknown location, where he was stripped to his underwear. There, he said, he endured several days of beatings and mock executions alongside other male prisoners, all the time tightly blindfolded. Watch Ibrahim Sharifi describe being tortured and sexually assaulted »

"They took us and they put a noose around my neck in a way that I was forced to stand on my tiptoes, unable to breathe," Sharifi said. "Somebody was constantly telling us ... 'You have received the oral sentence to be hanged, we are just waiting for the written order.'"

"There was the stink of piss and blood. It smelled terrible," Sharifi recalled. "I was beaten so much I didn't have any energy left to cry."

On the fourth day of his detention, during one of these mock executions, Sharifi said he finally snapped.

"I said, if you want to kill us, go ahead. Why do you play such games with us? And the response was a kick in my stomach that made me fall."

Sharifi said his captors kicked him repeatedly in the stomach until he started vomiting blood. He showed a pink scar on his belly from a previous car accident that he said was torn open by the blows.

"Then the guy told someone else, 'Take him and get him pregnant,'" Sharifi said, his voice cracking with emotion. "They tied my hands to the wall and tied my legs, and then did that thing to me. While doing it, he was telling me, "You, who cannot even defend your you-know-what, you wanted to conduct a revolution?"

Sharifi said he blacked out during the rape and woke up later, handcuffed to a hospital bed. A day later, he said, his captors dumped him, blindfolded, on the side of a highway.

"I was raped. Raped four times"

Twenty-one-year-old Maryam Sabri spoke to CNN by telephone from a Turkish city where, like Sharifi, she is waiting for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees to process her request for asylum.

She said she was arrested by men in plainclothes on July 30 while attending a ceremony at the grave of Neda Agha-Soltan, the Iranian woman whose death was captured by cell phone camera after she was shot during a protest in the streets of Tehran.

"When I asked them where was I being taken to, why have you arrested me, who are you?" their response was a constant slap on my face," Sabri recounted.

Sabri said she was interrogated several times after being detained. The sexual assault began during the third interrogation, she said.

"He said, 'OK, you wanted your vote back? Now I'm going to give back your vote." It was then that I was raped. Raped four times," she said.

"My hands were tied and my eyes were blindfolded," she said. "He threw me on the ground while pressing my throat with one hand, and both my legs were under the weight of his legs so I couldn't move at all."

Sabri said the last time she was raped, her assailant took off her blindfold and said he would release her on the condition that, once out of prison, she remain in contact with him and cooperate with him.

Several days after her release, Sabri said the alleged rapist, described as a man in his late 30s with light eyes and several days' worth of stubble, began calling her on her cell phone and threatening her.

She fled Iran several weeks later and applied for refugee status in Turkey.

Rape as punishment?

Human rights organizations Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran have expressed alarm about the reports of sexual assault in prison.

"The issue is, are the authorities using rape as a tool to pressure people, to punish people?" asked Stork, the Middle East deputy director for Human Rights Watch. "In the case of the one individual, Ibrahim Sharifi, it appears it was a punishment."

Iran's parliament and judiciary launched investigations into the allegations. But last month, Iranian security forces raided the offices of Karrubi, the opposition presidential candidate and longtime advocate for prisoners' rights who first publicized the rape allegations. The offices of another opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Moussavi, were also raided in September.

Iran's powerful conservative parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, said a special committee of Iran's parliament, or Majlis, conducted a "precise and comprehensive inquiry" into the treatment at Tehran's Evin and Kahrizak prisons and found "no cases of rape or sexual abuse," government-funded Press TV reported last month.

Larijani accused Karrubi of spreading "sheer lies."

However, not everyone was persuaded by the investigation. "The Iranian authorities appear more intent on finding the identities of those who claim to have been tortured by security officials than in carrying out an impartial investigation," said Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan.

Sabri and Sharifi are members of a growing population of expatriate Iranian dissidents in Turkey. Both face an uncertain future as refugees here and worry about the safety of their families back in Tehran.

Sabri claims her father was arrested after she first went public with her rape testimony on the U.S. government-funded network Voice of America.

Sharifi, meanwhile, said that before he fled Iran, government investigators accused him of lying about his prison experience for money ... charges he angrily denies.

"I broke a taboo in Iran," he said, weeping. "I sat in front of the camera and committed social suicide so this incident wouldn't happen to others."

"I want the whole world to know that Iran's problems are not only limited to the nuclear issue," he said. "The Iranian regime plays games with other countries of the world. It plays the same games with its own nation and people."

© 2009 Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Iranian Protester Flees After Telling of Torture


September 27, 2009

When he eagerly joined the mass street protests that followed Iran’s tainted June 12 presidential elections, Ibrahim Sharifi, 24, hoped only to add his voice to the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators demanding that the government nullify the results. He never imagined that he would eventually have a far greater impact, as the only person willing to speak publicly about the brutal treatment he was subjected to in prison, including rape and torture.

Mr. Sharifi, who recounted his ordeal to the opposition leader and former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, and then released a video account last month on opposition Web sites, is now in Turkey. He said he fled Iran after a stranger stopped him on the street to tell him his family would be killed if he testified before a parliamentary committee that was investigating the torture and rape accusations.

“I felt that I was not safe anymore and I could put my family’s life in danger, too,” he said in a series of telephone interviews, in which he spoke in detail about the protests, his imprisonment and the psychological scars he said the abuse had left.

Since he was dumped by his captors on the side of a Tehran highway, he said, he has been terrified of being alone. First, he had trouble sleeping, fearing that the guard who raped him in prison would attack him again. Now he is convinced he is being followed by someone who means to kill him.

“I was ready to be tortured to death,” he said, his voice trembling. “But not ever to go through what happened to me there.”

Mr. Karroubi and another opposition leader and presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, have vigorously condemned the vicious tactics the security authorities used against the demonstrators, 72 of whom they say were killed. Yet, of all the allegations of brutality and abuse that were lodged, none have presented such a threat to the government as those involving rape and sodomy, which are culturally and religiously unacceptable in Iran.

The rape allegations were aired publicly by Mr. Karroubi after the victims began coming to his office to report the abuses. The allegations — which appeared to reinvigorate the battered opposition — were immediately rejected by the government, which then raided the offices of Mr. Karroubi and Mr. Moussavi and seized materials. Subsequently, a judicial investigating committee ruled that documents presented as evidence of rapes and other abuse were fabricated.

But the government has been unable to silence the opposition and human rights groups who dismiss the government’s claims.

Human rights groups say that Mr. Sharifi’s account conforms closely with those of other abuse victims. Omid Memarian, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said he had confirmed the credibility of Mr. Sharifi’s story with people close to Mr. Karroubi.

“His narrative is consistent,” Mr. Memarian said. “He has no reason to risk making up a story like that, especially because he also met with judiciary authorities and demanded a thorough investigation.”

Mr. Sharifi was one of five brothers raised in north Tehran in a middle class family that was religious but not fanatically so. His father, a retired military officer, was a supporter of the 1979 revolution and participated in the rallies against the shah. His mother wore the traditional head-to-toe chador.

At Open University in Tehran, Mr. Sharifi studied computer engineering, and Italian at the Italian Consulate, the latter in hopes of studying medicine in Italy.

Not overtly political, he said he wanted more democracy and freedom, but gradually and peacefully. “I always told my father that even the 1979 revolution was a mistake, and that my generation did not want one,” he said.

He says everyone in his family favored the reform movement and were shocked when Mr. Ahmadinejad announced that he had won in a landslide victory, an outcome that has been denounced as a fraud.

Mr. Sharifi was outraged, and the only one in his family who began participating in rallies every day. He was on his way back home the afternoon of June 22 when he was grabbed by two men. “I had taken part in every single protest, so I saw this coming,” he said.

He said he was handcuffed, blindfolded and, as he later learned, taken to the notorious Kahrizak detention center in southwestern Tehran, where even the government concedes that several detainees were killed.

He said he remained handcuffed and blindfolded for four days in a cramped cell with about 30 other prisoners.

They were beaten senseless the first day, he said, and periodically after that over the next four days. Urine and blood covered the floor.

By the fourth day he was beginning to lose hope of getting out alive. He had trouble closing his mouth and he said he began vomiting blood.

“I told the guard that he should go ahead and just kill me if he wanted to,” he said, breaking into tears. “Then he called another guard and said ‘Take this bastard and impregnate him.’ ”

They took him out of the cell to another room where they pushed him against a wall that had handcuffs and two metal hooks to keep his legs open. The guard pulled down his underwear, he said, and began raping him.

“He laughed mockingly as he was doing it and said that I could not even defend myself so how did I think that I could stage a revolution.

“They wanted to horrify and intimidate me,” he said, weeping.

At that point, Mr. Sharifi said, he passed out. The next thing he remembered was opening his eyes and realizing he was in a hospital with one hand cuffed to his bed. Another young man was screaming hysterically on a bed next to him.

He said he heard a doctor tell someone, “Dump him or you’ll have the same problem as the other ones,” meaning that he would die in custody. Two days later, he said, they put him in a car, took him to a highway in Tehran and left him there, blindfolded.

He immediately went to a psychiatrist who put him on a heavy dose of anxiety medication. Then he went to a police station to file a complaint, but the officers advised him to be thankful that he was alive and to try to forget about it.

In time, he decided to go see Mr. Karroubi, having heard that other victims of rape and torture were doing so. At first he spoke only about the torture; the rape was too painful and embarrassing to talk about.

But Mr. Karroubi pressed him, suspecting that he had been sexually assaulted because he began weeping and shaking every time he was asked about his last day in prison. Finally, Mr. Sharifi told him.

Even after his shattering ordeal, Mr. Sharifi, who hopes eventually to get to the United States, refuses to be intimidated.

“I think they are following me to kill me,” he said. “But I will not let them force me into silence.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company.


Empty roar from ‘Lion of Islam’

By Amir Soltani Sheikholeslami and Rita Nakashima Brock

September 23, 2009

IRANIAN President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, brazen denier of facts and history, is returning to the United Nations today. As with the UN Conference on Racism, Ahmadinejad is likely to repeat his blistering attacks on Israel and the United States in an attempt to pose as the Lion of Islam. Instead of applause, he should expect the silence of the Islamic world.

In 2006, Ahmadinejad, riding a wave of Muslim outrage about the war on terror, wrote to President Bush about the abuse of Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. “There are prisoners in Guantanamo Bay that have not been tried, have no legal representation,’’ he wrote. “There is no international monitoring of their condition and fate. No one knows whether they are prisoners, POWs, accused or criminals.’’

Though none of the suspected terrorists were Iranians, Ahmadinejad justified his intervention on the highest moral grounds:

“I could not correlate the abduction of a person, and him or her being kept in secret prisons, with the provisions of any judicial system. For that matter, I fail to understand how such actions correspond to the teachings of Jesus Christ, human rights and liberal values.’’

This time, when Ahmadinejad addresses the UN General Assembly, the Iran hoodwink is off. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, is denying Muslims the legal protections Ahmadinejad demanded for Al Qaeda operatives.

Khamenei’s post-election crackdown has led to the detention of more than 4,000 protesters. The opposition claims more than 69 fatalities. The deaths of Sohrab Arabi, Neda Soltan, and countless others have exposed Khamenei’s brutality even to the Islamic world. Ranking ayatollahs have called for the release of political prisoners and condemned their mass trials as “Stalinesque.’’

With revelations of the grizzly murder of Mohsen Ruholamini, the son of a high official, even Khamenei was shamed into closing the Kahrizak detention center for “failing to preserve detainee rights.’’

Despite this evidence, the self-styled Lion of Islam is now silent as a church mouse about detainee abuse in Iran’s Guantanamo: Evin prison.

Mehdi Karroubi, the defeated presidential candidate, has persisted in documenting allegations about the rape of minors:

“Some of the detainees have reported that certain individuals have so severely raped some of the girls in custody that the attacks have caused excruciating damage and injury to their reproductive organs. At the same time, they report that others have raped the young boys so violently . . . [that they] have been lying in a corner of their homes since.’’

Karroubi, a former political prisoner, observes: “If only one case is true, it is a catastrophe for the Islamic Republic of Iran which has turned the bright, shining history of Shia clerics into an atrocious, shameful fate that has outdone many dictatorial regimes, including that of the tyrannical Shah.’’

Still, torture and sexual violence in Iran’s prisons did not begin with Ahmadinejad’s reelection in June 2009. The stage for terror - the purge of leftists in 1988 and reformists in 2009 - was set with the summary execution of monarchists by Khomeini’s revolutionary tribunals in 1979. In 1982, Mehdi Bazargan, Khomeini’s first prime minister, asked: “What has the ruling elite done in nearly four years, besides bringing death and destruction, packing the prison and the cemeteries in every city.’’ In 1988, Ayatollah Montazeri denounced the judiciary’s mass murder of more than 3,000 leftist detainees, and condemned as unIslamic prison guards raping virgins before their execution. It is Khomeini’s medieval and murderous system of justice that remains etched in the Iranian constitution and enshrined in Evin prison.

Though self-serving, Ahmadinejad’s letter to Bush grounded detainee rights in universal principles of justice and compassion. Rape, torture, and murder of Iranians cuts against the teachings of the prophets Ahmadinejad claims to represent. Despite his visions of Christ and the Mahdi, the Lion of Islam is nothing but a slave of Khomeini’s ghost.

When he appears at the UN, Muslim leaders should demand that Ahmadinejad grant Iranians the legal protections he urged Bush to grant Muslims in Guantanamo. Alternatively, Ahmadinejad should enlighten UN ambassadors with a disquisition on how the prophets granted Khamenei the right to equate the rape, torture, and murder of Iran’s children with the fundamentals of Islam.

Amir Soltani Sheikholeslami is operations director at Omid For Iran. Rita Nakashima Brock, co-author of “Saving Paradise,’’ is founder of Faith Voices for the Common Ground.

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.