Iran’s Opposition Claims ‘Evidence’ of Rapes

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On Wednesday in Tehran, the reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi asked to meet with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other senior Iranian officials to present “documents and evidence” supporting his claims that some protesters detained during post-election demonstrations in Iran had been raped in custody.

Mr. Karroubi, one of the candidates in the June 12 presidential election, which the opposition continues to insist was rigged, made his call for a meeting in a letter to Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s Parliament. He also published the letter online (in Persian).

According to a Reuters translation, Mr. Karroubi asked Mr. Larijani to organize a meeting with Mr. Ahmadinejad and other senior figures, including Mr. Larijani’s brother, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, who is the new head of Iran’s judiciary, and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who leads a powerful clerical body and has supported the opposition. If the meeting were to take place, Mr. Karroubi promised he would “personally present my documents and evidence over the cases of sexual abuse in some prisons.”

Mr. Karroubi’s request for a meeting came as Iran’s judiciary decided to postpone another trial of opposition supporters, perhaps because today is the 56th anniversary of a coup (orchestrated by British and American intelligence services) against a democratically-elected government in Iran.

On Tuesday, an Iranian Web site reported that Mr. Karroubi also said that the recent abuses were worse than those carried out by the Savak, the Shah’s hated intelligence service, before the Islamic Revolution. “I am sorry to say that the Savak behaved in a more humane fashion than the individuals in charge of the recent arrests,” Mr. Karroubi said, according to a translation posted on a foreign policy blog run by Scott Lucas, a professor at the University of Birmingham.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, Mr. Karroubi said that discontent with the government is “growing at an extraordinary pace.” He told the newspaper: “In the streets, in the bazaars, at weddings and in mosques, everywhere you can hear people complaining about what has happened.”

The accusations of detainee abuse have been made in a series of letters written by Mr. Karroubi and the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, who praised the cleric’s “courage” in a letter made public on Tuesday for refusing to back down after another religious leader close to the government suggested that Mr. Karroubi should be prosecuted for making false claims.

Moussavi’s Letter

The Iranian Web site Mowjcamp.com reported that Mr. Moussavi said in his letter that “those who committed the crimes were the establishment’s agents.” He added that the government was “threatening detainees to keep silent” and had “asked those who were abused and raped in prisons to present four witnesses.” Mr. Moussavi also wrote to Mr. Karroubi:

I praise your courage and hope the other clerics join and strengthen your efforts. […] It is the main duty of revolutionary clergy to reflect the realities, but some have closed their eyes and ignored this responsibility.

Opposition Newspaper Closed

The letters were published online after Iran’s government shut down an opposition newspaper run by Mr. Karroubi on Monday. According to what Iranian bloggers say are firsthand accounts — in text and video form — demonstrators gathered on a street outside the newspaper’s offices on Monday chanting “Marg bar Diktator!” — “Death to the Dictator!” — were beaten by the security forces. Iran’s state-supported satellite channel Press TV reported that tear gas was also used to disperse the crowd.

Karroubi’s Charges

The Web site Khordaad88, which was set up by supporters of Iran’s opposition to provide English-language translations of reports posted on Iranian Web sites, published what it says is a translation of the complete text of a letter Mr. Karroubi wrote in July, in which he first made the accusations that detainees were raped in prison. According to Khordaad88, Hussein Karroubi, the cleric’s son, explained that his father had written that letter last month to Mr. Rafsanjani, who heads a clerical body that oversees the work of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. After Mr. Rafsanjani failed to respond to the letter, Mr. Karroubi made it public.

The cleric’s son said that it was written because “a great number of people who have been released have come to see my father. They have retold their accounts of the conduct and behavior of the officers and officials while they were in custody. They have described what they have seen or heard in detail. Evidently the behavior and action of some personnel, particularly toward women and girls, does not measure up to the reputation of the Islamic Republic or any other regime for that matter.”

According to the translation of his letter published by Khordaad88, Mr. Karroubi wrote, in part:

Some have been illegally and inappropriately arrested. Others have been subject to beatings. Some have been injured and murdered. People’s residences as well as dormitories have been raided and turned into a bloodbath. Even women have been subject to savage and horrendous abuses on the street. These events should be investigated. But certain other horrific acts have been committed that, if not for accounts from different sources in recent days, I or yourself would have had a hard time believing them.

Severe and brutal beatings have been reported such that after 40 days the victims are still not in stable condition.

Detainees have been subject to humiliating badmouthing and cursing. This also occurred for people who attended your Friday Prayer. This sort of behavior is not acceptable in our religious and Islamic culture, as all parties and groups have stressed. This shows that people who have been hired to commit these acts are not familiar with the most basic principle of our religion. […]

I have heard something else that even still, thinking of it makes me shiver. I have not been able to sleep the last two days since I heard this. I went to bed at 2 but without exaggeration I did not fall asleep, until I got up at 4, read from the Koran and took a shower so that water might calm me down a little. I even did the morning prayers but still was not able to sleep.

People who have told me about this, have all held important official positions in the system. They are well known and some of them have been soldiers in the holy war [the Iran-Iraq war]. These people have told me that something horrific has happened in the prisons. If only one case is true, it is a catastrophe for the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has turned the bright, shining history of Shiite clerics into an atrocious, shameful fate and has outdone many dictatorial regimes, including that of the tyrannical Shah. […]

This is what I have been informed about:

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 upon their release, they have had to endure great physical and mental pain and have been lying in a corner of their homes since.

Mr. Karroubi is also a former Speaker of Iran’s Parliament. After the accusations in his first letter were made public, the current speaker, Mr. Larijani, dismissed them out of hand. That led Mr. Karroubi to say in a statement translated by Khordaad88, “I have factual evidence, and I am not afraid of losing my positions and titles.”

In that statement, Mr. Karroubi added more details about the accusations of detainee abuse in Iran that has led to comparisons to the abuse suffered by detainees in American custody at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq:

I am very, very sad that they torture those who have come into the streets in protest. I have heard that they have stripped some prisoners and forced them on their hands and knees and then attempted to ride on their backs and forced them to make animal sounds. They have stripped others and forced them on top of each other and then sprayed them with water. I am ashamed to say such things. This is a great shame for the Islamic Republic.

An Account of ‘the Iranian Guantanamo’

As my colleagues Nazila Fathi and Robert F. Worth reported last month, some accounts of the conditions in one prison that was closed after the allegations of abuse became public were published on Iranian Web sites. One of The Lede’s readers, an Iranian-American translator, provided us with a translation of one of those accounts, written by a young man who says he was detained, beaten and threatened with rape.

As with many firsthand accounts coming from Iran since the disputed June 12 election, this one cannot be independently verified by The Times because of restrictions placed on reporting in the country by the Iranian government. We are publishing excerpts from this account to give readers some understanding of the conditions opposition supporters say detainees endured:

I do not know where to begin! Forgive me if the report I would like to give of the Iranian Guantanamo, the Kahrizak Camp, will have any grammatical and spelling errors, because I am in a hurry and must leave soon. It is currently 8 in the morning, 6th of Mordad [July 26] as I write this. This morning I, along with a few others, were able to escape certain death miraculously and I just arrived home from the hospital and immediately came to the computer to write this blog.

I was arrested on 18th of Tir [July 9]. I am 21 years old. Even as I write this I am in disbelief about my release. In the Tir 18th protests my friend and I were beaten by the plainclothes agents while we were on the motorcycle with my friend filming with his cell phone. A woman came to save us from the hands of these people, but they beat that poor person up as well. They threw us in a minibus filled with people hurt and beaten just like us.

The minibus took us to a police station. We were beaten so much that we did not know where we were. They put us next to a wall, and my friend and I were standing next to each other. Then a bulky plainclothes agent came and selected every other one of us and forced us into the minibus. I have not heard any news of my friend since that moment. They took me along with tens of others to a camp at Kahrizak.

You would not believe me but there were at least 200 of us in the room they took us to. Everybody was injured. The sound of groaning from pain had taken over the room. I wondered to myself what it was they had planned to do to us. Maybe tomorrow they will take us to a court or prison, which would at least be much better than where we are right now. There was no place to sit. The doors and walls were covered with blood.

I was thinking about my friend, because he was not the type to have any tolerance for such a place. In the midst of this all those in the room began to weep and cry, and said that one person had died. The voice was coming from the end of the room but you might not believe that we were all stuck to one another and could not move. Plainclothes guards entered the room, shattered the light bulbs and began to beat everyone in complete darkness. They hit anyone they saw in front of them. We were beaten for a good half an hour. A few went into a coma and may have even died from the intensity of the beatings.
They then shined flashlights in our faces and said “if you let out any sound we will stick these batons.” I was in disbelief. It felt like a nightmare.

[One officer], who seemed to be of their higher rank took the dead body and laid it against the wall, shined a flashlight in his face and said, “We have warrant to kill you all. So you better wish for some luck and not end up like this [expletive], dead. Don’t let out the slightest sound. If you stay alive until morning you stay alive.” He then continued, “you are all Muharebe [combatants]. Do you know what a Muharebe is?” He grabbed someone who seemed to be a 16 or 17 year-old boy by the neck from the front and said, “tell them what Muharebe means!” The boy said he did not know. The man then responded “the hell you don’t!” and began to beat him ruthlessly while saying, “Tell them, tell them!” He beat him to the point that the boy was unconscious. He continued to say Muharebe means Satan, means wrongdoer. He beat the boy so hard that some began to voice their anger, but were also beaten ruthlessly.

In that room of ours at least 4 people were killed by morning. [An officer] said in a loud voice, “there is no such thing as a toilet and tooth brush here, you do your business right here, are we clear?”

There was not a single uninjured person among us. They all either had blood clotted on their faces or their eyes had been bruised like mine. And many others had broken arms and legs. It was completely dark and I was not able to see a lot of people. Our eyes would become extremely irritated from the light every time they opened the door. The next days we spent in the worst conditions for which explaining would take a long time. We could not tell night from day. […]

Anyway according to a few of [the officer]’s thugs we were some of the first people to be thrown out of the camp due to the camp being over crowded. And they threatened us that they will kill us if we speak a word about what happened anywhere

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