When rape is inevitable: Surviving imprisonment in Iran

By Lauren Wolfe/CPJ Senior Editor on July 7, 2011 3:05 PM ET

As I read the account of Saeeda Siabi in an Iranian prison it became hard for me to breathe. Her descriptions of being raped in front of her 4-month-old son stopped the air in my chest. "They took me to a torture room and tied me to a bed," she said. "I was wounded and injured, but I forgot about wounds and injuries. I thought I was fainting."

The depiction of the violence endured by Siabi--an Iranian housewife imprisoned for more than four years because of her politically active family--must be read in its entirety to fully appreciate. But it also must be read to understand what has happened to thousands of women and men held, like her, in fetid Iranian jails over decades. Journalists, activists, bloggers--these political prisoners have suffered torture on a nightmarish scale.

There was a line in my June report, "The Silencing Crime: Sexual Violence and Journalists" about the use of rape to humiliate and control detainees in Iranian prisons. A new study by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, a nonprofit based in New Haven, Conn., fleshes out that assertion in compelling human detail, describing the lives that have been damaged or destroyed. The report contains the testimonies of five former prisoners who suffered or watched as others were raped. Most say that years later they are still suffering the effects of what they endured and witnessed. Siabi reports that she takes 50 to 60 pills a day to cope with her physical and psychological injuries.

One of the testimonies is from Mojtaba Saminejad, a blogger, journalist, and human rights activist who was jailed in 2004 and again in 2005. He was jailed the first time for exposing the detention of three bloggers. The second time he was detained for blogging about what he'd endured in prison, where he encountered 21 other bloggers also being held.

"These are the people who the regime is trying to coerce to make a forced confession, rat out their friends, or stop their activism," said Renee Redman, executive director of the Iran center.

Redman told me that while rape is found in most prisons around the world, it is systematically used against Iranian detainees as a form of torture. Our Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Mohamed Abdel Dayem, explained that interrogators use the brutality of rape to terrify the public and deter people from following the example of outspoken members of society.

Reading the testimonies in this report makes it clear that some regimes are willing to rip humans apart to prevent the exposure of their corruption. By continuing to report, though, Iran's many journalists and bloggers demonstrate that they will not be daunted. Their courage is astounding.


People of Iran suffered a lot and then struggled to get rid of Shah & his SAVAK and all that which was related with him. What the Iranians got in return is equally bad if not worse than Shah's rule.

A great article and thank-you. It is truly shameful that Iran pursued a system based on islamic savagery after a long history that spans over thousands of years. The idiot that posted here about the Shah is a typical islamist and posts on the false information put out by the regime. The Shah was a great man and now Iran is starting to realize what a mistake it was to bring to power a savage system based on murder, torture, and as you have clearly pointed rape which is the foundation of islam. May Iran wakes up soon and destroy the roots of islam.

@ M. Y. Qaisrani
Islamic regime is not comparable with Shah`s regime. Try to study more so you don`t make such a wrong judgement. Islamic regime is one of the worst dictatorships ever in the history.

Thank you to Shahin for standing up for the legacy of the late Shah. As usual, any time anything is posted revealing what this corrupt (and I might add-completely un-Islamic!) government is up to, some yahoo regime supporter has to leave some stupid remark(s)!

Actual true information regarding Iranian and Persian history is in short supply, and many times unavailable to the average Iranian living inside and outside of Iran. This accounts for much of the ignorance most Iranians are suffering from in regards to what the Shah and his father actually accomplished.

Compared to the despots who have ruled throughout Iranian (Persian) history, the Pahlavi's look like SAINTS-and that is only learned by bothering to care enough to study the actual history!

There are problems with the Islam haters as well-many are completely illiterate when it comes to what is and what isn't Islam, due to not studying it properly (difficult, when the supposed 'teachers' are teaching a false version of it to begin with), or not studying it at all. (Luke 11:37-52, Luke 12:1-4)

Unfortunately, the main and most serious problem Iran is suffering from is that its people are their own worst enemies! This is evidenced once again from reading their history. Until and when they wake up and start to take control of their own destinies and to take responsibility for the fact that they have continually allowed these despots to run roughshod all over them, they will continue to suffer at the hands of various despots.

Until they are willing to stifle their fear, and quit being the terrified sheep of this regime, and rise up once and for all (do I dare say this? like the Arabs have enough guts to!)and take control of their own destiny, we are going to continue reading pity party reports about what is happening to them.

They need to quit waiting for someone else to help them out. They need once and for all to help themselves-and, if they aren't willing to do that, shut up! For over 30 years we have been reading about how horrible it is over there, but the people continue to let fear reign supreme over them!

They also need to put aside all of their various political and religious differences once and for all and practice some unity. This is the biggest problem within the worldwide Iranian community. The constant arguing, bickering, and snubbing of each other that occurs on a daily basis is disgusting. kindegartners on a playground act more mature and civilized than most adult Iranians!

Great article, thank you for being the voice of many women AND men imprisoned in Iran, and threatened by rape every day.

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