IRAN: Allegations of Rape in Detention Centres

Saturday 22 August 2009

Analysis by Sara Farhang

TEHRAN, Aug 14 (IPS) - At continued public protests at Tehran’s Grand Bazaar Wednesday, demonstrators are expressing their discontent with the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while the rifts among the ruling elites of the Islamic government widen.

The latest disputes are focused on allegations of rape in detention centres made in a letter issued by reformist cleric Mehdi Karoubi, former head of Parliament and presidential candidate who ran against Ahmadinejad in the contested elections in June. The letter has managed to create greater controversy than the earlier allegations of torture and murder in the prisons of the Islamic Republic, which emphasises and promotes propriety.

Karoubi’s letter, addressed to Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful head of the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts, expresses concern about reports of rape by those taken into custody during the recent unrest and urges Rafsanjani to set up an independent and unbiased committee under the direction of the Assembly of Experts to investigate the allegations.

"A number of those arrested have reported that some [officials] have raped women in their custody with such force resulting in severe injuries. On the other hand there are individuals who have violently raped young men in detention, resulting in serious physical and emotional problems," stated Karoubi’s letter.

The letter, which was made public after ten days and - according to Karoubi’s son - because there was no response from Rafsanjani, also suggested that the issue be taken up with Ali Khamenei the Supreme Leader, if appropriate. Rafsanjani later stated that he had taken up the issue with Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, the head of the Judiciary.

In an interview on Thursday with Saham News - an internet news site close to Karoubi - the high ranking cleric explained that the head of the Judiciary had agreed to investigate the allegations of sexual assault in prisons.

The letter has caused quite a stir among some high level conservative officials who were quick to dismiss the charges.

Ali Larijani, the Head of the Parliament, dismissed the claims at the start of the session of Parliament Wednesday. According to Larijani, the special Parliamentary Committee set up to investigate the situation of those in detention, and claims of human rights abuses following the election unrest, had examined claims of rape and found no evidence in support of the allegations. The dismissal by Larijani Wednesday takes place after he suggested earlier in the week that should Karoubi have evidence in support of his allegations, he should submit it to the Parliamentary Committee which would investigate.

Alaedin Boroujerdi, the head of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of Parliament also dismissed the claims. He explained that according to Judge Mortazavi - who discussed these claims with Hossein Karoubi, the son of Mehdi Karoubi - the only evidence supporting such allegations were telephone calls made to the Etemad Melli Daily, a newspaper affiliated with Karoubi’s political party.

Since the letter was made public, Karoubi has been the target of harsh criticism by the hard-line Keyhan Daily newspaper, which is close to Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader.

In an editorial, Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of Keyhan called the claims baseless and called on the Judiciary to force Karoubi to prove his claims or be prosecuted.

But, Mir Hossein Mousavi, former Prime Minister and ostensibly defeated presidential candidate and Majid Ansari, member of the Central Council of the Society of Combatant Clerics, defended Karoubi’s claims. In an interview with the government news agency IRNA Thursday, Ansari claimed that the issue of rape in prisons was a fact and the evidence had been submitted to officials. "Regretfully these [allegations] are true. It seems that the situation has deteriorated so much in the Islamic Republic that such atrocities can in fact occur," claimed Ansari who is a cleric and also a member of the Expediency Council.

In his interview with Saham News, Karoubi, expressed regret about the fact that Larijani and Boroujerdi dismissed claims of sexual assault in prison before even having had the chance to investigate the issue. He went on to say that the claims made in the letter were based on evidence provided by victims who had confided in him, or accounts by witnesses. "So, I am not someone who would write such a letter without evidence or based on a phone call or unsubstantiated claim," said Karoubi.

While criticising the prevalent atmosphere of fear and violence, which makes it impossible for victims fearing retribution to come forward, Karoubi called for an independent committee to examine the claims of sexual abuse in prisons. He went further, saying, "I am telling officials that these insults and criticisms will not force me into silence, I have endured such slander over the past 20 years and I will continue to defend the rights of the people for as long as I am alive."

During a meeting with human rights lawyers earlier in the week, Mohsen Rezaiee, the conservative candidate standing against Ahmadinejad in the Presidential races, also said "if these reports are true, we have to declare public mourning in the country." He has since vowed to follow the cases of those in detention personally.

The issue of human rights abuses and death resulting from torture in prisons became a cause for official concern when it was announced that Mohsen Rooh-ol-Amini, 25, the son of a senior advisor to Mohsen Rezaiee died in Kahrizak prison as a result of injuries due to beatings he received in detention.

While reports of deaths in custody or deaths after release resulting for injuries received while in custody had been made prior to Rooh-ol-Amini’s death, they were not taken seriously by conservative officials. After the death of Rooh-ol-Amini, a special committee was set up by the parliament to investigate the situation of prisons. Kahrizak prison was also shut down on order of the Supreme Leader, who cited substandard conditions.

Since the fiasco, several parliamentarians have called for the ousting of Police Chief Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam. In an editorial published in Parliament News, the news site of the reformist faction of Parliament, Jamshid Ansari, a reformist parliamentarian, called on Ahmadi Moghaddam to resign or else be dismissed. "It would have been appropriate for Mr. Ahmadi Moghaddam to bravely take responsibility for all that events that have transpired," said Jamshid Ansari.

A statement issued by the reformist party Mojaheddin-e Enghalab, blamed Ahmadinejad and Minister of Interior Sadegh Mahsouli for the atrocities at Kahrizak. "Any action to address these developments without taking into account the roles of these officials would be insufficient, raising concerns about the possibility of such atrocities being repeated in the future."

After the closure of Kahrizak prison, and calls for investigation into allegations of torture and death, the police chief dismissed claims that any prisoners had been killed while in detention, stating that the two reported deaths of Rooh-ol-Amini and Mohammad Kamrani resulted from a case of meningitis. The police chief further claimed that the head of the prison had been fired from his post and that disciplinary measures would be taken against a few guards and officials.

The response of the police chief has left many - even in conservative camps - unsatisfied. Ali Mottahari a conservative MP claimed the efforts of the Police Chief to be insufficient and called for disclosure of the names of those responsible, in an effort to ensure that they would be prosecuted.

Meanwhile, Abdulhossein Rooh-ol-Amini has stated that those responsible for the death of his son should be identified and prosecuted. Abulhossein Rooh-ol-Amini has claimed that in an effort to prevent similar atrocities in the future, those responsible should face the punishment of ‘qesas’ or retribution, which can be implemented in cases of wrongful death - should family members choose.



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