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Iranian authorities have used rape and sexual assault to punish or silence those arrested during the 2022 Mahsa Amini protests, Amnesty International said in a report released on Wednesday. Amnesty documented 45 cases of sexual violence perpetrated against men, women and children who were detained and says the actual number of victims may be much higher.

Tehran's infamous Evin prison.


December 9, 2023

Iranian protesters detained during months of nationwide protests as part of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement that emerged after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini were raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence by Tehran’s intelligence and security forces, Amnesty International said in a report documenting the ordeals of 45 survivors. 

The report gathered testimonies from 26 men, 12 women and seven children as young as 12 who were subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence and torture

Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, died on September 16 last year after being arrested by Iran’s “morality police” for wearing her hijab incorrectly.

In a violent crackdown on the protests sparked by her death, Iranian law enforcement officers arrested tens of thousands of activists and demonstrators and subjected them to torture and other ill treatment, the 120-page report said. 

“Sexual violence was used by state agents with total impunity as a weapon of torture to crush protesters’ spirit, self-esteem and sense of dignity, to deter further protests, and to punish them for challenging the political and security establishment and its entrenched system of gender-based discrimination, as enforced through draconian legislation including abusive compulsory veiling laws,” the report said.

“My friends and I removed our veils in public and we were chanting. The thought never crossed my mind that the security forces would arrest us,” one protester, Maryam, told Amnesty. “More than 30 members of the Revolutionary Guards came and threw us into a van in a horrific way. The agents blindfolded and handcuffed us in the van and kept hurling sexual slurs at us and calling us ‘slutty girls’. They called us vulgar words, mocked and ridiculed us, slapped us, and punched and kicked us in our genitals and breasts.”

Rape, torture and forced confessions 

Blindfolded and handcuffed, Maryam said she was brought to a detention centre and separated from her friends by Iran’s morality police. 

Put in solitary confinement and interrogated, Maryam said she was then gang raped and tortured by the state agents. 

“There were three of them, including the interrogator ... They violently raped me in my vagina with their sexual organs and raped me anally with a drink bottle,” she said. She eventually passed out.

“I regained consciousness when they threw water on my head and shouted to others ‘Come and take this filthy slut’,” Maryam recounted in the report. 

She was eventually thrown in a cell. “The guards then said to me[,] ‘You are all addicted to penis, so we showed you a good time. Isn’t this what you seek from liberation?’"

After suffering hours of rape and sexual violence for the purpose of inflicting maximum humiliation and punishment, the traumatised and disoriented detainees were often coerced into giving false “confessions” of connections to foreign entities and receipt of funds to take part in protests, the report said. 

Another protester, Hossein, who was arrested by plainclothes agents, said he was subjected to torture and sexual violence and forced to confess.

“They removed my clothes except for my underwear. They turned on the cooler and then sprayed water on my body. I was freezing and they told me they would only stop if I made forced ‘confessions’ and said whatever they wanted me to say,” he said. 

Another male protester, Jamshid, said he was given electric shocks to his testicles and threatened with rape if he did not admit to all the allegations against him.

State complicity 


Perpetrated by members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the Basij paramilitary force, the intelligence ministry and the police force, Amnesty said the rape and torture took place in official detention facilities or security compounds as well as unofficial locales such as houses or apartment buildings known colloquially as “safe houses” (khanehay-e amn) or at makeshift detention centres such as warehouses, parking lots and schools.

Despite the numerous first-hand accounts and even the identification of perpetrators by the victims, none of the authorities have been held responsible. Most of the victims have refrained from filing complaints for fear of repercussions and a deep mistrust of Iran’s judiciary, the report said. 

Among the documented cases, only three dared to seek legal action after release. Two were then forced to withdraw their complaints after receiving threats from the Iranian security forces. The third was ignored for months and was told by a high-ranking official that he “mistook” a body search for sexual violence, Amnesty said. 

"Prison rape has existed since the early days of the Islamic Republic," said Azadeh Kian, a French-Iranian sociologist, noting that Amnesty’s findings were unsurprising.  

"In the 1980s, young women arrested for political offenses were raped before execution. Their executioners thought that if they were virgins, they would go to heaven, which they should not be entitled to. A temporary marriage was organised and a dowry in the form of sweets sent to the girl's family," Kian said. 

Denouncing the complicity of Iran’s judiciary in covering up reports of rape, sexual violence and other torture practices, Amnesty’s Secretary General Agnés Callamard said the victims were left with no options. “Victims have been left with no recourse and no redress, only institutionalized impunity, silencing and multiple physical and psychological scars running deep and far,” she said as the report was released.

The body as a battlefield

In addition to the rapes and torture, victims also reported cruel and inhuman detention conditions such as extreme overcrowding, filthy and unsanitary conditions, infestations of cockroaches and mice, a lack of bedding, and poor or no access to toilets or hygiene. 

"There were no sanitary facilities, which was unbearable for them," said one mental health professional cited in the report, who treated a teenage girl imprisoned for more than a month after protesting near her school with her friends.

Women and girls were also denied menstrual products. 

While a growing number of intellectuals and human rights activists, including jailed Nobel Prize winner Narges Mohammadi, have denounced sexual violence against female prisoners, many victims remain silent for fear of ostracism and repercussions. 

The prevalence of sexual violence during the "Woman, Life, Freedom" uprising is difficult to estimate given the stigma and well-founded fears of reprisals leading to under-reporting, Amnesty said. 

But Kian said more and more people are braving the consequences.

"Today, victims are speaking out," she said.  

"#MeToo has happened and so has the 'Woman, Life, Freedom' movement,” Kian said. “The body is used by the security forces as a battlefield, so denouncing [these acts] has become an act of resistance.”  

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