Rapes of 41 women and girls in Iranshahr stir controversy across Iran
Rapes of 41 women and girls in Iranshahr stirred controversy across Iran. While June was marked by more news of violence and discrimination against women in Iran, and violations of their rights, the most tragic headlines belonged to the young women and girls raped in Iranshahr.
Mistreatment and torture of political prisoners including by denying their needed medical treatment, arrests and detention of civil and human rights activists, and handing out heavy sentences for students who spoke out against the regime during the Iran uprising in December/January, are the basic components of a routine practice by Tehran’s ruling clerics every month.
In the month of June, women participated in at least 64 protests. There were reports that domestic violence against women in Iran had doubled in one year, and that over 151,000 girl children remained out of school this academic year. At least 15 young women committed suicide, and forcible marriage was declared as being one of the main reasons for women who commit suicide by setting fire to themselves.
Iran’s Chief Coroner announced that the number of women who complained against domestic violence increased 5.8 percent in 2017. While in 2016, there was a 3.2% increase in domestic violence against women. (The official IRNA news agency - June 9, 2018)
Another official, Abbas Soltanian, deputy for mid-level education in the Ministry of Education, also revealed that from October 2017 until June 2018 (the academic year in Iran), there were 151,046 girl students who did not register in any schools, and were not considered students at all. (The state-run ILNA news agency - June 25, 2018)
Another report cited Mohammad Nowrouzi-nia, head of the Education Department of Dishmook in Kohgilouyeh and Boyerahmad Province, saying that forcible marriages are among the most important reasons for young women setting themselves on fire in Kohgilouyeh and Boyerahmad Province, in southwestern Iran. (The state-run Tabnak website - May 31, 2018)
Also for the first time, a U.S. official confirmed that the gangs who splashed acid on women in 2014 were tied to the ruling regime.
Sigal Mandelker, the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the U.S. Treasury Department, said the Ansar-e Hezbollah which is a state-backed institute has been linked to the acid attacks against women in Isfahan. They splashed acid on numerous women whose head covering and clothing did not comply with the regime’s standards, seriously injuring them and creating an atmosphere of fear. (USAdarFarsi, the U.S. State Department’s Facebook in Farsi - June 7, 2018)
Most tragically, the gang rapes of 41 women and girls in Iranshahr was what shocked the Iranian society and sparked great outrage against the approach of a misogynous regime in dealing with this horrendous crime against defenseless women in one of the most oppressed Iranian provinces.
41 women and girls raped by assailants tied to local big wigs
The whistleblower was Mowlavi Tayyeb Mollazehi, the Friday prayer leader of Sunnis in Iranshahr, who revealed the news on the rapes of 41 women and girls in Iranshahr on Friday, June 15, 2018, in his Friday prayer sermon.
The assaults had been carried out by a gang of four men, reportedly linked to the city’s wealthy and influential families.
Referring to the arrested assailant, Mowlavi Tayyeb Mollazehi said, “He has confessed that they have raped 41 Muslim sisters.” Then, in interviews with the state-run ISNA and ILNA news agencies, he added that the arrested member of the gang was “a wealthy magnate.”
Tayyebeh Siavoshi, a member of the mullahs’ parliament, declared that her independent inquiries from “unofficial sources,” confirmed that the arrested person in this case “enjoyed power and financial base.” (The official IRNA news agency – June 18, 2018)
Siavoshi did not name anyone.
The families of the victims told Mowlavi Tayyeb Mollazehi that they did not trust the State Security Force to pursue the case because “the assailants are tied to the (paramilitary) Bassij.” According to another account, the father of one of the suspects is one of the senior commanders of the IRGC, the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps that dominates the country’s economy and armed forces.
Kidnapped at gunpoint by men in military uniforms
The victims of the serial rapes of 41 women and girls in Iranshahr were between 18 and 30 years old. They were first identified by the assailants and subsequently kidnapped on their way home.
Every one of them were driven to a safe house in Iranshahr where they were raped by four kidnappers. The victims said they had been kidnapped “at gunpoint” by individuals “who were wearing the State Security Force or military uniforms.”
To prevent their victims from identifying the house, the kidnappers blindfolded them on the way to the safe house. But one of the victims managed to learn the route and identify the house where she had been outraged.
Mowlavi Tayyeb Mollazehi explained in his sermon that one of the victims was going back home from work in the holy month of Ramadan, when she was obstructed by the kidnappers and forced into a car at gunpoint.
Reza Abdi, general director of the Coroner’s Office in Sistan-and-Baluchistan Province, said, “A 24-year-old person (woman) referred to the Coroner’s Office (on Monday, June 18, 2018), who had been hurt, harassed, raped and kidnapped. She also bore obvious scars of rape and kidnapping… In the examinations, she was found to bear scars of beating, too.” (The state-run IRNA news agency – June 18, 2018) She was filing complaint three or four days after the incident.
Fatemeh Fazeli, general director of Women and Family Affairs at the Governorate of Sistan-and-Baluchistan Province, was interviewed by the local news channel, Neday-e Zahedan (Voice of Zahedan). “Quite a few young women and girls of Iranshahr have been victims of this ominous incident but only a few of them have dared to speak about this agonizing experience,” Fazeli pointed out.
It is believed that many raped women and girls are refraining from filing complaints and concealing the truth, fearing social “disgrace.”
The rare testimony of a victim
One of the victims whose audio recording has been recently published on the internet says, “I was coming back from work and I was waiting for a taxi when a white car with smoky glasses stopped in front of me. I couldn’t realize who the passengers were. I tried to walk away, but three men who had covered their faces got off the car and forced me into the vehicle.”
She said they took away her purse and her mobile and blindfolded her.
“They took me to a house and raped me until it got dark. Then they dropped me somewhere close to my home… I couldn’t recognize the assailants; I didn’t see their faces,” she complained.
The victim explained that when she told her family about what she had been through, her brothers wanted to kill her, but it was her mother who managed to prevent them from doing so.
Minimizing the crime while accusing the victims
Taking advantage of the small number of complainants, the regime’s officials have tried to downplay the gravity of the case and undermine the validity of the news.
Mullah Ebrahim Hamidi, Chief of the Justice Department in Sistan-and-Baluchistan Province, reacted to the news of the rapes by saying, “We cannot confirm the claim made by Mr. Mowlavi in the Friday prayer of Iranshahr; so far, only three persons have filed complaints.” (The state-run Tabnak website – June 17, 2018)
Mullah Ali Movahedi Rad, Zahedan’s Prosecutor, also said, “there are only three private complainants. As a result, one could not speak of rapes of 41 women and girls.”
He denied the validity of the news all together and said, “It is possible that some of these people were previously in some relationship but subsequently ran into problems and finally to complaints.”
Mohammad Hadi Mar’ashi, deputy for security and disciplinary affairs to the Governor of Sistan-and-Baluchistan Province, claimed, “One could say that the three women knew one another from before.” Mar’ashi accused Mowlavi Tayyeb of stirring tensions in the city by speaking out about the issue without having sufficient information. (The official IRNA news agency – June 18, 2018)
On June 24, 2018, the Minister of Interior, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, described the figure 41 as being “unrealistic” and announced, “Based on what has been officially reported so far, there have been only four official complaints.”
Ironcially, Rahmani Fazli went on to say, “Claims were made under interrogation that there were other cases, as well, but those claims have not been verified, yet.” (The state-run ISNA news agency – June 24, 2018)
Threatening to arrest the whistle blower
Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, the regime’s Prosecutor-General, declared on Monday, June 18, 2018, that the person who disclosed the news of the gang rapes of 41 young women and girls in Iranshahr will be prosecuted.
The state-run media cited Montazeri as saying, “According to the statements of the local prosecutor and judiciary officials in Sistan-and-Baluchistan, and my own personal studies, we must deny this story the way it has been presented.”
Referring to Mowlavi Tayyeb, he said, “The Judiciary will deal decisively with the individual who has taken advantage of a public forum by misinforming the public by fake news without verifying its validity, and thereby jeopardizing the honor of some families.”
The regime’s Prosecutor-General emphasized, “This incident is certainly not true in the scale it has been raised.”
He threatened to take legal action against Mowlavi Tayyeb Mollazehi if he fails to prove his claims. “His action is tantamount to distortion of public opinion, a charge that could be prosecuted under the law.”
Montazeri emphasized, “Everyone should know that based on legal and religious principles, moral issues concerning people’s wives and daughters and any issue that concerns the dignity of families must be kept concealed.”
The victims have no legal protection
A sociologist says, “The victims have no legal protection.”
Shahla Ezazi who is the director of the Study Group on Women in the Iranian Association of Sociologists, said, “Had this happened anywhere else in the world, it would have led to the resignation of the top officials in charge. In this case, however, we see that the Governor rejects the disclosure made by the Friday prayer leader (who is a trusted person among the populace). He says there were not 41 victims. Still, even if there were only 3 complaints, this should have led to the resignation of the Governor. In practice, however, we do not see such a thing happen.”
Not only the officials did not resign, but they arrested and imprisoned a number of people who protested against this outrage. Abdollah Bozorgzadeh is just one of dozens of people who was arrested in the protests against the gang rapes and has not been released, yet.
In addition, Mowlavi Tayyeb Mollazehi, the whistleblower in this case, has been silenced.
By discrediting the testimonies of women who filed complaints, and accusing them of having illicit relations with the assailants, other victims are effectively discouraged from stepping forward to file complaints about the rape case.
A catastrophe in the making
The trend of events show that local and national judiciary officials are attempting to sweep the entire dossier under the rug. A well-coordinated choir to conceal the truth and help the criminals evade justice, those who “enjoy power and financial base,” and have ties with “the Bassij” and “paramilitary institutes.”
Had it not been for the public outrage, these women could have been convicted and sentenced to stoning.
Attempts made by judiciary officials to minimize, and even deny the case altogether, have raised enormous anger in different social media platforms. Expressing their abhorrence, people are saying in a country where Saeed Toosi, described as the favorite Quran reciter of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is acquitted for raping his students, such incidents seen in Iranshahr should not raise eyebrows.
The most vivid example was the case of Reyhaneh Jabbari, the 19-year-old woman who defended herself against rape. She spent seven years behind the bars and was viciously tortured to make false confessions to help clean the trace of the assailant, a senior Intelligence Ministry official. Reyhaneh refused to make false confessions and was finally hanged because of defending herself against rape.
In the meantime, the two bills incriminating child abuse and violence against women continue to be pushed off the table as an increasing number of rape accounts keep mushrooming in different parts of the country. This becomes all the more serious when we realize individuals associated directly to “influential parties” of the Iranian regime are involved.
Their crimes are only the tip of the iceberg of a societal catastrophe in the making that has victimized women and girls before anyone else.