Updated: Sep 2, 2022
On May 9, 2019, Iranian student activist Parisa Rafiee, who is serving a seven-year sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, published an open letter revealing the suffering of female political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Iran.
As we reported, Rafiee, 22, was arrested on February 25, 2018 by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry for allegedly attending protests that swept through Tehran and other Iranian cities in December 2017 and January 2018. She was accused of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against Islamic Republic.” Rafiee was later sentenced to seven years behind bars by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court on charges of “crimes against national security,” “propaganda against the regime,” and “disrupting public order.
In Rafiee’s letter (translated from Persian), she wrote:
Today, nearly a year and a half after the wave of detentions in January 2018 where hundreds of students as well as dozens of student activists and free-education activists were sentenced to flogging and imprisonment, we are still hearing the cries of student activists for justice, but the forces of suppression have not decreased their pressures and attacks in the slightest bit…. I decided to write this letter knowing fully well that revealing such recollections can have dire consequences for those who make such revelations, affecting their ongoing legal and court proceedings.
But in light of the importance of defending the human rights of our student friends, journalists, and the thousands of political prisoners held in Iran, we cannot keep silent. We face a situation in which numerous dangerous restrictions, the possibility of being rearrested, and the probability of the continuation of repression have always hindered those arrested from revealing what they lived through….
I am one of a number of independent student activists who has suffered from lack of transparency in regard to my case with justice and security officials. In regards to the virtual indifference and silence of the media and public opinion to the catastrophic situation of the political detention centers in Iran, I would like to point out two different cases of abusive acts by the security forces during my own detention that show how the security forces, the Ministry of Intelligence officials, and IRGC intelligence division degrade and harass prisoners, particularly female detainees. The use of violence along with psychological games for the purpose of forcing political activists to confess to their alleged crimes is rampant. (We have repeatedly witnessed officials threatening political detainees with publishing their confessions.)
I hope that exposing these tactics will hinder the process of imposing these illegal and inhumane mechanisms by judicial and security forces. I hope that these revelations will help break the silence about the persecution by the repressive institutions and prevent further illegal and brutal acts and pressures on those detained on International Labor Day and Teacher’s Day.
1—During my entire detention (with the exception of the last two days that my bail was being considered), I was interrogated every single day. I spent 21 days in solitary confinement at a detention center without knowing the name of the place I was being held. This is one of most practiced and serious forms of inhumane tortures that must be confronted and eradicated. Aside from imposing a few days to several months of solitary confinement on detainees, the issue that has to be addressed is that political detainees can be transferred to and held in anonymous detention facilities during their confinement. This is a problem that, in addition to confusing the process of locating and pursuing a prisoner by their relatives, can have adverse psychological effects on detainees.
Political detainees, when not aware of their surroundings through the use of blindfolds and other security measures, are much more vulnerable to threats during interrogation, especially in cases where the interrogators grant the accused permission to contact their loved ones only if they cooperate. The prisoner is kept in a situation where she believes that no one is aware of her whereabouts—even her own lawyer—and has no way of contacting anyone to seek help and support. Independent experts and lawyers should also outline the wider dimensions of the effects of these secret detention centers so they can accurately critique and track the general status of those held in these detention centers.
2—During my detention, the interrogator, with the consent of the prosecutor, sent me for virginity testing. When they were faced with my absolute resistance despite their threats and pressures, they were forced to back down. I insisted on filing a criminal complaint due to their behavior in trying to force an illegal act upon me, but they refused to file any such complaint and said that “we did not want you to make a false claim against us.” They probably meant that they did not want me to claim that I was raped; given that every inch of these detention centers is covered with security cameras, this claim in itself is absurd as well. Such insults and pressures were not limited to the virginity testing. Through a series of letters and notes, the interrogator kept describing the place I was at and, through verbal threats of execution and having my fingernails pulled out, kept applying psychological pressures on me. I describe these details to show that the interrogators have several ways of applying pressure on detainees, and they continue the pressure until the psychological breakdown of the individual.
These inhumane and extrajudicial tactics, including all types of dehumanizing threats and humiliations, are applied to all detainees, especially those whose arrest information is not publicized.
The increase in political arrests and the overwhelming repression of women who are politically and socially active compel us to ask: what does conducting a virginity test—which concerns a completely personal matter to the arrested women—have to do with the security apparatus and the content of the interrogation? Undoubtedly, the emergence of public sensitivities to stop these acts, which are a gross harassment of female prisoners, violating their privacy and human rights, is more necessary than ever.
PS—My emphasis on political defendants in this letter does not mean that I prioritize them over regular detainees, but, because of my personal experience, I have become more aware of their situation.
I hope and believe that the details of the inhumane conditions governing ordinary prisoners (who are forced to tolerate more depressing and inhumane conditions) should be publicized with due diligence.
Parisa Rafiee – May 9, 2019
Endangered Scholars Worldwide urges the Iranian authorities to release all the students behind bars arrested simply for the peaceful demonstrations. ESW calls on the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, to defend students’ rights of freedom and of expression. ESW calls upon all international organizations, academic and professional associations, and other groups and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights to protest and condemn the Iranian authorities’ continued abuse of students.
ESW urges the officials of the Iranian government to respect, guarantee, and implement the provisions and principles of human rights as specified in international conventions and treaties in accordance with Iran’s obligations under international law.
Please send appeals to the following:
President Hassan Rouhani
The Office of the President
Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection
Islamic Republic of Iran
Minister of Foreign Affairs
The Minister’s Office
Imam Khomeini Square
Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +98 21 66743149