Days after being hit with another risible 30-month jail sentence, veteran Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi has taken to Clubhouse to speak out against the abuse of female prisoners by the Iranian regime.
Speaking on Wednesday night in a chatroom entitled "Female Political Prisoners: from Humiliation and Sexual Assault to Corporal Punishment", Mohammadi told the audience about her latest sentence of two and a half years in jail, 80 lashes and two fines.
The anti-death penalty campaigner, who was first arrested in 2015 and released from Zanjan Prison last October, was charged with an array of offences in connection with her activism while behind bars. This included holding a sit-in to protest the killing of protesters in November 2019, and speaking out about being assaulted by prison officials.
The sentence, Mohammadi said on Clubhouse, was “inhumane” and she planned to ignore it. She went on to reveal further details of some of the physical and sexual harassment she herself experienced over half a decade as a female prisoner.
One of the fresh charges against Mohammadi is “defying the orders of the head of the prison". In fact, she said, this related to a single, absurd episode while she was being held at Evin Prison in Tehran: “He [the prison head] asked me to light a cigarette for him. I crushed the cigarette. Now I have been convicted of disobeying his orders."
The incident took place after Mohammadi and five others at Evin had staged the sit-in. In her telling, the guards then tricked her into attending a “meeting with a lawyer” and instead took her to the office of the director of Evin Prison.
"When I said I wouldn’t be left alone with him,” she said, “the prison head attacked me from behind. His assault and insults became more violent, I resisted, and they pushed at me and dragged me out.
“They wanted to force me into a car, so I sat on the ground. The prison director picked me up and dragged me towards to the car. My head was in the car and my lower torso was outside; he brazenly grabbed my waist and pushed me inside, and sat on my leg, while another officer grabbed my arms and legs and threw me into the car like a sheep while I wasn’t wearing a hijab. All the while, I was shouting and protesting."
Mohammadi then addressed Ebrahim Raeesi, the head of Iran's judiciary and likely frontrunner in the June 2021 presidential election.
"After I was beaten and insulted,” she said, “the prison head put his face in my hair and called me by my first name. He asked me to light his cigarette for him.
“Mr. Raeesi, should I have lit his cigarette? Should I have smoked with them so as not to be convicted?"
Other people in the Clubhouse room had similar and even worse stories to tell. Female prisoners described being subjected to physical and sexual torture, harassment, assault and rape behind bars, for which the perpetrators were of course never punished.
A woman who introduced herself as Ms. Saberi, whose husband was executed in the 1988 massacre of Iranian political prisoners, told those present: “In 1982, three members of the Guards arrested and raped me in the Isfahan desert. They’ve harassed me all these years since."
Monireh Baradaran, who was also imprisoned in the 1980s, said in her view the word “torture” covered a wider range of abuses than many people assumed. “Everything Ms. Mohammadi mentioned is a clear example of torture,” she says.
“I don’t remember the details of my own torture, because it’s so painful, but I do remember I was flogged with my hands tied until I passed out, and then when I woke up, the first sentence I heard was: 'Cover yourself... shameless.' My headscarf had been pushed back because I was handcuffed, and because of this, I was doubly humiliated."
Kaveh Kermanshahi, a human rights activist, told attendees a story about the Kurdish political prisoner Zeinab Jalalian, who was first detained in 2008. "One of Zeinab's interrogators in the first few months at Kermanshah Intelligence Detention Center approached her seductively and tried to put a ring on her hand, which was handcuffed. Zeinab threw it and kicked the interrogator. The interrogators then beat her so badly that she was hospitalized."
During the Clubhouse discussion, Narges Mohammadi also pointed out that this treatment is not reserved for women of one particular faith or background. “Don’t assume that they only insult non-religious women,” she said. “The interrogator told a religious woman in [my] prison, 'Aren't you a whore?' He put some money on the table and said, 'Take this money and sleep with me.'"
She also said that her cellmate for a time, a young woman jailed for financial crimes, had been “severely harassed... The interrogator had touched her breasts, and her mental health suffered because of this.”
Mohammadi believes that this vicious and bullying treatment, together with the endemic practice of forcing young female prisoners to take “virginity tests”, are a systematic attempt to “break women’s resistance” that those responsible have been trained for. The point being, she said: “If I break over these kinds of issues, how can I defend my political position?"
Chillingly, she added that the Revolutionary Guards are understood to have special so-called “safe houses” located in east and west Tehran, where prisoners can be held and tortured without supervision.
"At least in Evin Prison, people heard my screams,” she said. “I knew that if I died, at least the guards would see my body.”