In Iran, how the regime uses rape to repress women demonstrators

JOHN MACDOUGALL / AFP As here in Berlin in October, the fate reserved for Iranian women participating in demonstrations leaves no one indifferent around the world.


As here in Berlin in October, the fate reserved for Iranian women participating in demonstrations leaves no one indifferent around the world.

IRAN-” Jin, Jiyan, Azadi in Kurdish, Zan, Zendegi, Azadi in Persian ” women, life, freedom ” in French. It is because of these claims of democratic and pacifist aspirations that thousands of Iranian women have suffered the violent repression of the regime in Tehran since September.

An inquiry into the bloody repression in the country was finally authorized this Thursday November 24 by the United Nations Human Rights Council, but without the prior agreement of Tehran, which is silent on the matter. The purpose of this investigation is to collect as much evidence as possible on the spot and then prosecute those responsible.

Sexual assaults and rapes against those who dare to show their hostility to the regime are now the order of the day in Iran, a way of instilling fear and terror among the most vocal protesters, and especially the women, at the origin of the first waves of September protests. While a chilling CNN story testifies to the almost systematic use of rape on women arrested and imprisoned by the Iranian authorities, Alice Bordaçarre, head of the women’s rights office of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) returns to the use of this practice in the current context of Iran.

The use of rape seems increasingly systemic in Iran. How to explain the amplification of the use of this ” armed against the protesters?

There is evidence that Iranian authorities are using rape to put down protests and to terrorize those involved in the current movement, especially women, although cases of rape of young men have also been reported. In the 1980s and after the uprising following Ahmadinejad’s re-election in 2009, numerous cases of rape had already been reported. It is therefore an unfortunately recurring strategy of the security forces in Iran.

In this sense we can in fact speak of a ” armsand” by the authorities. Rape cannot be considered accidental and isolated. It is a strategic tool used to humiliate, dominate, intimidate, destroy individuals and communities. It aims here to terrorize to destroy the revolution by making the women and men who participate in the struggle fear sexual violence if arrested. This logic of terror can be compared to the acts committed by Russian soldiers on the Ukrainian population, with the difference that Iran is not a country at war.

How do you document these abuses?

We have three member organizations in Iran keeping us informed of the situation. Usually, we set up international teams that carry out fact-finding missions following an internal methodology dedicated to the topic of SGBV (sexual and gender-based violence) because there are specific risks of re-traumatization of the victims. Particular attention must also be paid to the training of investigators, but at the moment it is impossible to travel to Iran and we cannot go into too much detail on how we are informed of the situation for security reasons.

Is it possible to do this in view of large-scale legal proceedings?

We conduct advocacy investigations to remind authorities of their international obligations and also litigation investigations to submit complaints or communications to the International Criminal Court (ICC). But Iran has not ratified the Rome Statute, so it is not a member state of the International Criminal Court. And for sex crimes to qualify as international crimes, they must have been committed in a specific context.

For Iran, civil society calls on the United Nations to immediately set up an independent international fact-finding mission to investigate the death of Mahsa (Zina) Amini and the serious human rights violations committed by the authorities in response to the ongoing protests, to detain authors on behalf.

Do you have any other examples of the methods used by the Iranian regime to attack women and force them to silence?

Women are persecuted because of their gender in all aspects, both in private and public life. Their rights are recognized within the limits of Islamic Shari’a. According to the law, therefore, a woman is worth half of a man: a woman’s testimony in court is worth half that of a man, the price of blood paid for a woman’s murder or bodily harm is half than that of a man. , women can inherit half of what men have…

They are also discriminated against within the family: women’s right to divorce is limited, girls can marry from the age of 13 and repudiation is possible. Not to mention that restrictions on freedom of movement and the dress code limit women’s participation in public life.

Is there a reason why most of these reports of sexual assault come mainly from the west of the country (majority Kurdish)?

Discrimination based on ethnicity and religion is widespread in Iran, both in law and in practice, in the political, social, cultural and economic spheres. The regime responds to peaceful demands for respect for minority rights and the abolition of discrimination through increased repression and terror: violence, arbitrary arrests, torture, summary trials and executions.

Participating in protests by schoolchildren and students, many underage girls have been among the protesters arrested since September, and are also suspected of being raped in prison. Does it have any information to provide on the living conditions of these young (or even very young) women?

It is really a fear because similar cases were recorded in the 80s. For the moment we have not been able to verify these allegations ourselves. On this issue as on others we remain very cautious. Some sensitive information remains very difficult to confirm in the current environment.

The question of rape inevitably leads to that of contraception. What is access to contraception like in Iran for women in 2022?

Iran pursues, like China, a pro-natalist policy and believes that women’s place is at home. Women face severe restrictions in accessing contraceptives, with the aim of limiting the use of contraception as much as possible to encourage the birth of new children. As for abortion, it has been limited, even when the mother’s life is in danger.

FIDH brings together 192 national human rights organizations in 117 countries. According to the data collected by FIDH, a member of the League for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI), as of 22 November 2022 the Iranian authorities have killed at least 481 people, including many women and at least 71 children, and arrested thousands of civilians (more than 15 000) as part of their relentless crackdown on mostly peaceful protests. And at least 28 protesters were charged with crimes carrying the death penalty.

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