Thousands of women had taken to the streets during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, many who like their male counterparts, were determined to bring an end to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s despotic rule.
But once the dust had settled, with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini winning full control of the country, many who fought for freedom, soon came to realize that their newly appointed Supreme Leader, was offering much the same as Reza Pahlavi as far as autocracy was concerned, and women’s rights were almost immediately curtailed.
So, disillusioned with the newly installed religious dictatorship, droves of women joined political opposition groups, soon finding themselves back on the streets demonstrating against Khomeini, and with a crackdown fast put in place to counteract the ever-increasing disturbances, many women were arrested, finding themselves languishing in one or other of the regime’s brutal prisons.
From those very early days, the regime has despised political prisoners with such rancour, thousands have been slaughtered within the prison system, and many detainees, whatever their gender, have been tortured, physically beaten or raped. Due to the vast number of arrests, the majority of female activists abandoned any form of dissention, and in desperation to seek freedom, many of their number had fled the country.
Where Iran is concerned, treatment of women in its prison system closely reflects the dark days of the Nazis, when those watching over the dismal, fetid jails of that tyrannical regime, operated under their own volition, and inmates were tortured as daily routine and all forms of abuse was rife.
No sooner had Ruhollah Khomeini established his autocratic rule, any laws that were put in place by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to protect women, under his Family Protection Law of 1967 and 1973, which the new ruling clergy scorned as Pahlavi modernist ideology, were repealed within hours of the founding of Iran’s Islamic Republic.
One in particular, which had been put in place by the Shah to ensure that girls could not be wed until the age of 15-years, was lowered by Khomeini to the age of 9-years. In these modern times, where Iranian women have access to the outside world through the internet, they see the way women have much more freedom in the outside world.
With many younger women in Iran openly defying authority, through street demonstrations, if they don’t end up with acid thrown in their faces by the morality police within the Basij militia, they find themselves thrown in prison.
Women’s rights defenders often find themselves arrested, many women who have campaigned for redress of human rights violations end up in prison, most have taken part in peaceful gatherings, some just standing together in silent protest in parks, and although many are released after a short period in custody, others are sentenced to lashes, or substantial prison sentences.
With women’s rights at an all-time low in Iran, a place where a woman can be hung for fighting off a rapist, every form of abuse can be found within the country’s prison system. As far as rape and sexual abuse of both men and women are concerned, in Iran’s notorious penal establishments, nothing is out of bounds.
With most female victims that have suffered rape at the hands of prison guards, having ended up at the end of a hangman’s rope straight after such violations, the likelihood of witness statements from victims is quite sparse. Most statements that have been taken concerning sexual abuse, come mainly from the victim’s cellmates who survived their sentence, and related them to human rights organizations.
In the light of British dual-national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, being imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, the facility has come under Western scrutiny. To a woman, the first sighting of an institution like Evin Prison, can be a mortifying experience.
Its formidable structure stands in the shadow of the bleak Alborz mountain range, covering a large area north of Iran. A grim place, with towering walls topped with barbed wire, and dotted with watchtowers, Evin is surrounded by armed guards.
After the softening up process, the next step is often solitary confinement, where the prisoner can find herself being dragged from her cell on a daily basis to be interrogated, where torture is often applied, while questions and verbal abuse are thrown at the prisoner in torrents.
During the sweltering heat of summer months, these prisons reek more than usual, and in the overcrowded cells, bugs and cockroaches run rampant, adding to the misery of those incarcerated. Within the confines of some 20-square-metre cells, as many as 28 prisoners can be crammed, and with personal hygiene at its worst, due to just one shower available for up to 200 prisoners, with finding a place to sleep virtually impossible.
Many forms of torture
In Iran’s prison system, torture comes in many forms, it can be physical through severe beatings, or applied through the use of various implements such as whips or batons, or in the form of mental torture, such as being forced to watch mock executions, sleep deprivation, prolonged periods of solitary confinement.
Sometimes they take the form of threats of arrest and harm to family members, denial of visits and telephone calls, prolonged periods of solitary confinement, and pouring of iced cold water on prisoners with heart conditions after being exposed to long periods of intense heat. As in the case of most prisons, the deprivation of health care, with basic necessities such as toilets and showers at a minimum.
Sexual torture has become the norm in the Iranian prison system, it is casually used as like any other form of torture, and it takes place in both jails and detention centres, where helpless women stand no chance of defending themselves.
In Iran, girls as young as 13 have been executed. Young girls that are imprisoned, who end up in in the “respectable” sounding “Residential Units”, which in reality sadistic guards denote as “rape camps” or a “place of no return”, often end up horrendously tortured, hung, or are so despicably sexually abused, many who survive end up mentally deranged.
When women have suffered the terrible trauma of rape, those who survive the gallows often won’t speak out due to the shame and humiliation it would cause them. While many others have remained silent, due to the fact of threats being made against their families by the perpetrators, who warn them that if they should decide to speak out, members of their family could suffer the same fate, or their entire family would be murdered.
In the opposite to men, whose time in prison is more socially acceptable, many female prisoners or rape victims that are eventually released, find themselves facing the social pressures which come about through being imprisoned.
So, as far as a woman is concerned, being in jail can destroy her reputation, and any mention of rape can result in the victim being murdered, often as a result of honour killings by family members. So, for women victims of imprisonment or rape, their ordeal never ends.