On 7 Mordad 1388 (July 25, 2009), Mehdi Karroubi, two-time head of Parliament, wrote in a letter addressed to Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts: “Some people have severely raped female prisoners, causing injury and damaging their reproductive systems. Others have savagely raped young male prisoners in such a way that some now suffer from serious depression and psychological problems, hiding in the corners of their homes.”
Not many years earlier, another letter had been written and etched into history.
On 17 Mehr 1365 (October 21, 1986), Ayatollah Montazeri, wrote in a letter addressed to Imam Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the man Montazeri was poised to succeed, “Do you know that in some of the Islamic Republic’s prisons they take girls into custody every day? Do you know that during interrogation of girls it is common to use abhorrent and shameful foul language?”
Nasrin Parvaz, a former political prisoner, survivor of the 1988 executions, and author of the book Zire Boteh Laili Abbasi, in a conversation with Radio Farda spoke of her experiences, memories and what she witnessed during her time in Iran’s prisons.
Nasrin Parvaz : “When I returned to Iran from England in 1357 (1978), I saw the first demonstrations. When they closed the Ayandegan newspaper, the people spilled out onto the streets, shouting for freedom. The Hezbollah penetrated into the masses and stabbed [at the people with knives]. These events changed my life; I couldn’t return to England. In 1361 (1982), I was arrested and sentenced to death. In the end my father was able to change the ruling.”
Ms. Parvaz expounded on this [last] point: “Lajevardi sold out hundreds of prisoners to their families. [The prisoners] were set to be executed but he received a hefty sum of money and released the prisoners. Following the visit from the Committee to Investigate Prisons and the third time when Galen DuPaul visited Evin Prison, one night in 1369 (1990) I was released.”
During your nine years in prison did you witness physical torture and or the raping of female prisoners, and did you hear of such cases about the male prisoners?
Nasrin Parvaz: “I myself was tortured and my feet became paralyzed. I couldn’t walk. Before I was arrested I came to know a girl named Yas. She was 14 years old when she was arrested at the protests, and the Committee guards raped her. She was just a child when she became pregnant. I went to see if I could help her for the cortage. In prison, I also came to know a girl named Anahid who was arrested along with her cousin. She was 12 years old when she was arrested, her cousin 14. During their period of interrogation, their cells were next to each other. The interrogator raped her cousin. The two nights when the guards were not on our row, the girls would talk to each other. At one point her cousin told Anahid, ‘ want to kill myself and you must not get upset. I got raped and don’t want to live anymore.’ Anahid told me that all night she screamed to tell the guards to come and not let her cousin kill herself, but she wasn’t successful, and her cousin killed herself.”
In referring in her book to the story of a girl named Yas who became pregnant after she was raped at 14, Ms. Parvaz said that they couldn’t help her in the cortage because they wanted lots of money for such a job. She also wrote in her book of Yas’ marriage with a young man and the baby’s murder after its birth.
Do you remember other stories about rape or sexual exploitation of female prisoners?
Nasrin Parvaz: “One day they took a girl into a solitary confinement cell, in Gowhardasht. After two days she came back and felt sick. Suddenly she started to scream out [what sounded like] what she had said when trying to defend herself during the rape. Her friends understood that she had been raped. Her psychological state was broken. They released her a few years later. When she went abroad, she killed herself.
“Unfortunately, [Iranian] society does not deal properly with rape. Therefore, victims, more so than the offenders themselves, are careful not to let anything slip. The family of the girl never told anyone that she killed herself. But, in my opinion, her suicide was not individual; it was political. They said that she died from a car accident.”
Ms. Parvaz believes that families of rape victims must make the issue of rape public; it’s because of [Iranian] society’s culture that no victim dares to say that she has been raped.
Do you have any information about the men? Were boys/men raped?
Nasrin Parvaz: “In the 1980s they raped men. But the extent of rape at that time was not as vast as it is today. Now they have realized that rape is a means and a quick way to pressure; it has more psychological and physical effect on the [victim]. I know three men who have been raped. One of them was raped 12 years ago and suffered many injuries. Two other people during the arrests two years ago were raped. One of them is still receiving medical attention.”
Ms. Parvaz recommends victims and their families seek psychiatric treatment. She believes writing is one form of remedy that helps [the victims] recognize [and address] problems.
Soudabeh Ardavan is a former political prisoner and survivor of the 1988 mass execution of political prisoners. She spent eight years in Evin and Ghezal Hasar prisons. She talks about some people who didn’t want girls set to be executed to go to Paradise.
Soudabeh Ardavan: “Sexual torture is another tool to crush the prisoner. It is not something that just occurred. Looking at the actions of the Islamic Republic and the torturers during the 1980s, they always thought they could torture more, especially women, in this way. One of the most common finds is that female political prisoners, especially during the years when we were in prison, were mostly 17 or 18 years old—young and unmarried. [The torturers, guards, authorities] thought that girls must be raped before being executed so that they don’t go to paradise. This was systematic. They had religious justification behind [such belief].
“We have examples. For example, the Tabriz prison, they would systematically rape the majority of girls but neither the social nor political circumstances were right for victims of these rapes to speak out. There was also no one from within the regime who would reveal. We have stories which are still behind the veil.
“In these definite cases, they would send sweets or some money to the family of the executed person to say that this is your daughter’s wedding sweets before her execution. They would send a box of sweets while saying that this much money you have to give for the bullets. Let me point out something, all these things coming to light now must come out; it is very good, but in our time the asphyxiation was very bad, meaning during the 1980s when we were in prison.”
Shadi Sadr, a legal expert who recently has been released from prison writes, “Taraneh Mousavi who wore green, on 7 Tir (June 16) at a rally near the Qoba Mosque was arrested and raped. Afterwards, because of a ripped uterus and anus, she was taken out of the hospital in Karaj and in the end was buried in the north of Iran in the middle of a cemetery without name or identification. Even if a name’s not there, it stands as a symbol for all women who were raped in prisons after the 1979 Revolution.”