Iran’s intelligence and security forces have committed horrific acts of torture, including beatings, whippings, electric shocks, rape and other sexual violence against child protesters as young as 12 to quell their participation in protests across the country, Amnesty International said today.
Marking six months of an unprecedented popular uprising in Iran, triggered by the death in custody of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, Amnesty International reveals violence against children arrested during and after the protests. The research exposes the torture methods used by the Revolutionary Guards, the paramilitary Basij, the Public Security Police and other security and intelligence forces against boys and girls in custody to punish and humiliate them and to coerce forced “confessions”.
“Iranian state agents have torn children from their families and subjected them to unfathomable cruelty. It is appalling that officials used such power in a criminal way over vulnerable and frightened children, causing serious pain and anguish to them and their families and leaving them with severe physical and psychological scars. This violence against children exposes a deliberate strategy to break the spirit of the country’s youth and prevent them from demanding freedom and human rights,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The authorities must immediately release all children detained solely for peaceful protest. With no prospect of effective and impartial investigations into the torture of children in the country, we call on all states to exercise universal jurisdiction over Iranian officials, including those with command or superior responsibility, who are reasonably suspected of being responsible for crimes under international law, including the torture of child protesters .”
I was forced to say what they wanted because they raped me with pipes. They took my hand and forcibly took my fingerprints.
A boy detained by state agents told his mother
Since the start of Amnesty International’s investigation into the brutal suppression of the uprising by the Iranian authorities, the organization has documented in detail the cases of seven children. The organization received testimony from victims and their families, as well as further testimony about the widespread torture of large numbers of children from 19 witnesses, including two lawyers and 17 adult detainees who were held together with children. The victims and eyewitnesses we spoke to were from provinces across Iran, including East Azerbaijan, Golestan, Kermanshah, Khorasan-e Razavi, Khuzestan, Lorestan, Mazandaran, Sistan and Baluchestan, Tehran and Zanjan.
Amnesty International has removed all references to identifying details, such as the children’s ages and the provinces where they were detained, to protect them and their families from reprisals.
Mass detention of children
Iranian authorities have admitted that the total number of people detained in connection with the protests was more than 22,000. Although they did not give a breakdown of how many children were arrested, the media reports reported that children included a significant part of the protesters. Based on the testimony of dozens of detainees from across the country who witnessed security forces detaining scores of children, along with the fact that children and youth were at the forefront of protests, Amnesty International estimates that thousands of children may have been among those swept up in the wave of arrests.
It is disgusting that the officials used such power over vulnerable and frightened children in a criminal manner.
Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International
Amnesty International’s findings show that arrested children, as well as adults, were first taken, often blindfolded, to detention centers run by the Revolutionary Guards, the Ministry of Intelligence, the Public Security Police, the investigative unit of the Iranian police (Agahi) or paramilitary forces Basij. After days or weeks of incommunicado detention or enforced disappearance, they were transferred to recognized prisons. Plainclothes agents abducted others from the streets during or after protests, took them to unofficial locations such as warehouses, where they tortured them before leaving them in remote locations. Such abductions were carried out without any legal process and were aimed at punishing, intimidating and dissuading children from participating in protests.
Many children were held together with adults, contrary to international standards, and subjected to the same patterns of torture and other ill-treatment. A former adult prisoner told Amnesty International that in one province, Basijagents forced several boys to stand in a line with their legs apart next to adult prisoners and gave them electric shocks in the genital area with a stun gun.
Most of the children arrested in the past six months appear to have been released, sometimes on bail pending investigation or sent to trial. Many were released only after being forced to sign letters of “repentance” and promises to refrain from “political activities” and attend pro-government rallies.
Before releasing them, government agents often threatened the children with prosecution on charges that carried the death penalty or with the arrest of their relatives if they complained.
In at least two cases documented by Amnesty International, despite the threat of reprisals, victims’ families filed formal complaints with judicial authorities, but none were investigated.
Rape and other sexual violence
Amnesty International’s documentation also reveals that state agents have used rape and other sexual violence, including genital electric shocks, genital touching and threats of rape as weapons against child detainees to break their spirits, humiliate and punish them and/or extort “confessions. ” This pattern is also widely reported by adult women and men in custody.
State agents also shouted sexual insults at the detained girls and accused them of wanting to expose their naked bodies, just because they were protesting for the rights of women and girls and defying the mandatory veiling.
One mother told Amnesty International that state agents raped her son with a pipe while he was in enforced disappearance. She said:
“My son told me: ‘They hung me to such an extent that I felt as if my arms were going to be torn off. I was forced to say what they wanted because they raped me with pipes. They took my hand and forcibly took my fingerprints from the paper.”
Beatings, whippings, electric shocks and other abuses
Security forces regularly beat children during arrests, in vehicles during transfers and in detention centers. Other methods of torture described include whipping, giving electric shocks with a stun gun, forcing the administration of unidentified pills and holding children’s heads under water.
In one case, several schoolchildren were kidnapped because they wrote the protest slogan “Woman, life, freedom” on the wall. A relative of one of the victims told Amnesty International that plainclothes government agents abducted the boys, took them to an unofficial location, tortured and threatened to rape them, then dumped them semi-conscious in a remote area several hours later. The victim told the relative:
“They gave us electric shocks, hit me with the back of a gun on my face, electric shocks on my back and batons on my legs, back and arms. They threatened us that if we tell anyone, (they will detain us again), they will do even worse and hand over our corpses to our families.”
Victims and families told Amnesty International that state agents also suffocated children, hung them by their arms or scarves wrapped around their necks, and forced them to perform humiliating acts.
One boy said:
“They told us (over a dozen people) to make noise for half an hour – long enough to ‘lay eggs’. They made us do push-ups for an hour. I was the only child there. In another detention center, they put 30 of us in a cage made for five people.”
State officials also used psychological torture including death threats to punish and intimidate children and/or coerce them into extorting “confessions”. State media published the “forced confessions” of at least two boys detained during the protests.
The mother of the girl who was detained by the Revolutionary Guard told Amnesty International:
“They accused her of burning headscarves, insulting the supreme leader and wanting to overthrow (the Islamic Republic), and told her that she would be sentenced to death. They threatened her not to tell anyone… They forced her to sign and give her fingerprints. He’s having nightmares and he’s not going anywhere. He can’t even read his school books.”
The children were also held in cruel and inhuman conditions of detention, including extreme overcrowding, poor access to toilet and washing facilities, deprivation of sufficient food and drinking water, exposure to extreme cold and prolonged solitary confinement. The girls were held by all-male security forces regardless of their gender-specific needs. Children are also denied adequate medical care, including for injuries sustained through torture.