Freedom from Torture’s new report “Turning A Blind Eye: why the international community must no longer ignore torture in Iran” examines forensic evidence of 69 Iranian torture survivors examined by Freedom from Torture since 2015. These reports document alarming levels of torture and abuse perpetrated by the Iranian government between 1985 and 2015, and criticises the muted response to these human rights abuses from the UK and other countries.
At a time when the UK is seeking deeper political and financial links with Iran, and the detention of British-Iranian nationals highlights the shocking way those who are arrested and detained in Iran can be treated, our report calls for a greater emphasis from the UK government on human rights in all of its dealings with Iran.
The research confirms that the widely-reported crackdown following Iran’s 2009 election was not a one-off, detailing the use of torture both before and afterwards by the police, intelligence and security services. It exposes the horrific abuses that take place inside detention centres across the country. Given that international monitors are routinely denied access to these facilities, the evidence represents a unique and detailed insight into the country’s shocking detention practices.
The evidence demonstrates how torture has been used by the Iranian regime to restrict real and perceived political, religious or minority ethnic activity, including low-level activities such as attending a protest, blogging or drawing graffiti.
Torture methods identified in “Turning a Blind Eye” include appalling physical abuses, from beatings and stress positions to electric shocks and cutting with knives, as well as high levels of sexual violence perpetrated against men and women, including rape. A distinctive feature of torture in Iran is the sophisticated use of psychological torture, including humiliating treatment, extended use of solitary confinement, and threats or harassment directed at torture survivors and their families. This appears to be an effort to destroy not just individuals but societal structures and trust in order to maintain control.
All his life, Hamid had experienced discrimination on the grounds of his Arab ethnicity. One day at university, he joined a small gathering of Arab students, where people were making speeches calling for freedom of speech and for the Arab culture to be respected. Suddenly police appeared. They started insulting the Arab students and rounding them up, using handcuffs and blindfolds. They were taken to an unknown place, and held together initially, all in one room.
Hamid was then taken and kept in solitary confinement in a small, foul–smelling cell, with no toilet. If he asked to go to the toilet, he was severely beaten. Interrogators asked questions about whom he was taking orders from and for the names of his friends. They tried to force him to sign an unseen document, but he refused. This made the interrogators very angry, and they threatened him with further torture. They suspended him by his wrists and ankles, and used a pipe to beat him on the soles of his feet.
After a few days, Hamid was transferred to prison. It was a year before he was taken before a judge, but he received neither a sentence, nor bail, and was returned to prison for years. He was detained amongst serious offenders, who harassed him, and made his time in prison especially difficult. Eventually his father managed to bribe an official for his release, on condition that the deeds to the family home were handed over. Fearing for Hamid’s future, his father arranged for his escape from Iran. Travelling via an agent he eventually arrived in the UK. Hamid’s legal representative commissioned Freedom from Torture to prepare a medico-legal report documenting evidence of his torture. The report was included in his claim for asylum and Hamid was eventually granted refugee status.
* Names have been changed and other specific details omitted to protect anonymity.
Marjan was born into a politically active family, which had a history of involvement in oppositional politics. She was proud of the lineage of strong women in her family. Though she had not previously been involved in politics, after the 2009 election she attended a peaceful demonstration. Later in 2009 she attended another demonstration in outrage at the killing of peaceful protesters by state security. Security agents violently attacked the crowd and Marjan, along with many others, was arrested.
She was held in an overcrowded and dirty cell with many other women. One by one women were released but she, with a few others, was kept there. Eventually they were transferred to another place of detention. Marjan and other women were stripped naked on many occasions and subjected to searches. Guards touched them inappropriately and insulted their personal hygiene, though their access to washing facilities had been restricted. She was detained with other women in an overcrowded and filthy cell with only two blankets and a lightbulb kept on 24 hours a day, making sleep almost impossible. Then they moved Marjan to solitary confinement. They interrogated her on several occasions, beating her severely each time, and raping her. She was made to sign papers that she was not allowed to see, and sentenced to prison.
After serving her sentence, she was eventually released. She knew that the authorities would be watching her from now on. Following her experiences in detention, re-building family relationships was very difficult. One of the torturers from her time in detention continued to harass her, threatening to tell her husband of the rape she had suffered, which would have caused her unbearable shame. Fearing that Marjan would come to further harm, her family arranged for her escape from Iran. Marjan claimed asylum in the UK, but the Home Office refused her claim. She lodged an appeal, which included a medico-legal report prepared for her by Freedom from Torture, and was eventually granted refugee status in 2017.
*Names have been changed and other specific details omitted to protect anonymity.