Armita Abbasi, a 20-year-old woman from Karaj, near Tehran, went on trial on January 29 after being tortured and sexually assaulted in detention, triggering a Twitter storm from her supporters.
Armita had multi-colored dyed hair and an eyebrow piercing. She wrote about her life, cats and dreams on Instagram until she was arrested in October 2022 for joining the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protest movement triggered by the September death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police.
How did Armita become a symbol of resistance of the Iranian people in the face the Islamic Republic’s fierce crackdown on more than four months of demonstrations demanding more freedoms and women’s rights? What do we know about her ordeal during the nearly four months she has spent behind bars?
Subjected to “repeated rape”
A lot of what we know about Armita’s detention was revealed in a shocking report published by US television news network CNN on November 21, 2022. The report was titled “How Iran’s security forces use rape to quell protests.”
Earlier, private Instagram messages between medical staff of Karaj’s Imam Ali Hospital circulated on social media and mentioned the case of a young woman who was brought by security forces to the hospital one week after her arrest. This woman was suffering from symptoms associated with violent sexual assault such as hemorrhage and rectal lacerations.
The security agents took Armita away before her family arrived at the hospital. The young woman’s head was shaved, and she was trembling out of fear.
The medics wrote about the horror they felt when they saw evidence of brutal rape. “When she first came in, [the officers] said she was hemorrhaging from her rectum…due to repeated rape. The plainclothes men insisted that the doctor write it as rape prior to arrest,” one of the messages reads.
An insider at Imam Ali hospital confirmed the veracity of the leaks to CNN.
Alleged “riot” leader
After the leaked messages were published, Raja News and other media outlets affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps quoted Hossein Fazeli Harikandi, the president of Alborz province’s Department of Justice, as saying that two arrested demonstrators had “confessed” that Armita was a protest leader.
On October 30, Raja News claimed that bottles of gasoline, 10 Molotov cocktails and lighters were seized during Armita’s arrest. The report also alleged she had called on people to “riot” on social media.
Harikandi called Armita’s reported rape and sexual assault a “total fabrication” and said she was hospitalized due to a hemorrhoid condition she was already suffering from prior to her arrest. The official also said that after being discharged from hospital, she was visited by a specialist doctor to prevent the recurrence of the problem. No evidence was provided to support these claims.
Dry Hunger Strike
On January 2, Armita’s mother announced that her daughter had gone on a dry hunger strike to protest her long detention without her case being processed in court. In retaliation, the inmate was forbidden to call her family.
It was later reported that 14 cellmates had joined Armita’s hunger strike, both to support her and protest lack of medical care, their long detentions and the absence of legal due process.
Finally, on January 29, Armita’s father wrote on his Instagram page that the first hearing of her trial was held in the presence of her lawyers. He said the court session was conducted in a “just” and “lawful” manner and that his daughter’s lawyers were permitted to defend his daughter - an occurrence with few precedents in the last four months.
On the 99th day of Armita’s detention, her father wrote said that he knew “nothing about the charges against her.” And on January 22, Armita’s lawyer tweeted that he and the other lawyer in the case had resigned because they had not been allowed to meet their client in person. He wrote that the lawyers did not have enough time to prepare a proper defense.
On the eve of the trial, the father wrote that the court had accepted Shahla Orouji as Armita’s chosen lawyer and that she was going to defend her in court. IranWire could not find out whether Orouji was able to meet her client before the trial. It was also unclear if the lawyer was granted access to Armita’s file.
Icon of the protest movement
Armita, known by many for her colorful hair and her intelligent comments about social events on Instagram Live, has been in prison since October 10. As numerous reports by human rights organizations and media outlets such as IranWire have shown, Iranian jails are torture chambers for young Iranian protesters, regardless of whether they are official prisons or detention centers of the Revolutionary Guards and the Ministry of Intelligence.
Now Armita’s has become a symbol of the Iranian protest movement. Photos posted on social media show that other young Iranians in the streets of Karaj and other Iranian cities continue to denounce her ordeal in captivity by writing graffiti on walls and putting her picture on buildings.
Shima Babaei, a women’s rights and an anti-forced hijab activist, tweeted ahead of Abbasi’s trial, “She knows what she wants from life, she knows her rights and she does not kowtow to the dictator. Those who are devoid of any humanity targeted her womanhood, violated her life and robbed her of her half-baked freedom. Our dear girl has suffered beyond belief.”