PBS NEWSHOUR and the Center for Investigative Reporting mark the two-year anniversary of Iran’s “Green Movement” with an exclusive report about the government crackdown that followed. The report features the courageous work of an Iranian journalist and the first, heart-wrenching accounts of women demonstrators who say once arrested, they were raped, beaten and tortured by the Iranian government. Watch the full report on PBS NewsHour. CIR editors had the full interview with “Leila” translated. What follows is an excerpt. For reasons of safety CIR has decided to not reveal the identities of the interviewer and person interviewed.
I was an ordinary person and a student who was detained for no reason.
That day I wasn’t part of any protest. I was returning home from the university. They harassed me, abused me, tortured me.
They constantly deny any act of torture on TV, but that’s exactly what they did to me. I want to tell the whole world, it wasn’t just me, but many people.
They arrested me and put me in a van. Along the way they hit us with batons, harassed us, and cursed us. They were policemen wearing uniforms with large builds, wearing hoods disguising their faces, you could only see their eyes and mouths. They had ripped off their name tags from their uniforms. Their uniforms, batons, shields and equipment were all similar. It was inside a van like those of morality police, they hit us and insulted us.
Among them was a young boy, his mustache hadn’t even grown yet, he wasn’t a man. He touched us all over with lust, on my breasts, other women’s breasts, wherever he wanted. No one dared to challenge him. A woman who protested, he turned and slapped her on the face. We all fell silent.
There was a guy filming us constantly with a handycam from all directions. They transferred us to a place that was like a warehouse. I didn’t see much of it, just that it had tall walls and a high ceiling like a warehouse. They wouldn’t exchange a word with each other, nothing whatsoever. They are such fearful people that [they wouldn’t speak] in front of someone like me, who is a nobody. I have the strength only now. Why didn’t I speak out before? I didn’t have the ability to speak out.
I am an ordinary person who decided to speak out more than a year after what happened to me. Go try find someone like me who would be willing to give an interview. They don’t exist, they don’t have the strength because they fear another round of torture and trouble. No one would come forward and say these things.
If our captors weren’t scared they wouldn’t have heaped this misfortune on us. I am not a very religious person but I do believe in something. They shattered my soul such that I say “Damn God!” Because what had I done? What had I done to deserve this? All I had done was to give one vote and that was to Mousavi. A vote that was never counted, never!
The dragged us on the floor, not even asking us to stand and walk. They dragged us like potato sacks into hallways made of curtains.
They gave us typed up pages, with the standard bureaucratic font. And what was written on those pages? It said that I had committed acts I had absolutely never done. I was to copy from those pages that I am a rioter, I have endangered national security, I did this and that, and I am a terrorist! I didn’t even have nail clippers in my purse, for them to say I had anything remotely sharp or dangerous. I only had my books and pens coming from the university.
They separated us into groups of five here, five there. It was the same boy who was groping us in the van, he separated us. For example, he said I was one of the pretty ones and should go to one side.
They shaved all our heads. I used to have log hair. He grabbed my hair in his hand like this. A man! It was a man shaving my hair, a man giving me a body search, a man touching me all over. There were no women there.
He would purposely hurt me while shaving me, to give me marks on my head.
While he was shaving me, he was touching me all over. I wasn’t sitting on a chair. He held me like this and grabbed my head while his legs were feeling me.
Five of us were taken to a cell. A tiny cell. Some earlier detainees were also there. I was really tired, bruised, my face all cut up, totally devastated. They held us there until they supposedly clarified our status.
We were in that tiny room for 18 hours. I desperately needed to go to the bathroom. The pressure was really hurting me. I felt my bladder would burst. I was nauseous, thirsty. I had read in human rights books that detainees have certain rights. But I didn’t have the most basic rights like going to the bathroom or drinking water. I didn’t the right to a lawyer, or to call my parents to say where I was and not to worry.
I didn’t have any appetite for food but I wished I could call my father. That was much more important to me. To say “Father dear, I am here and need someone to come help me.”
It wasn’t like they would tell us confess to this or that and then go free. They wanted to keep us in such limbo, to reach a point where you say enough. You would say I would do anything to get out of this.
With our hands tied, our eyes covered and hoods over our heads, they transferred us to a detention center. I couldn’t tell where it was. Not just me, no one had any idea where we were.
What haunted me the most was the groping, more than the insults. Their groping was torture.
As they groped us they would invoke Saint Zahra. Could you imagine that? Could Saint Zahra believe such things?
In the name of Saint Fatima, Saint Zahra they touched us and they even said “In the name of God” as they did it. They would say “Oh God accept us!” As if it was our wedding and he was performing his rituals preparing for the marital bed.
I detest the phrase vigilante forces that the government uses. How could they be vigilante if they have serious backing and protection? No! they were no vigilantes. All the papers and forms had seals of the Judiciary and Intelligence Ministry. You think I am a little kid to believe these people could be vigilantes? I am no kid! I have seen it all … killing people and claiming it was vigilantes!
They took us to a detention center. This was more like a proper detention center, not a warehouse. This time they took me into a solitary cell. I figured out that before and after interrogations they throw you in solitary confinement, so when you are done you don’t share your experience with others.
After a short time, about 20 minutes, they took me to the interrogation room. My hands were tied behind my back, I was blindfolded and gagged. The room was dark and the door opened. I heard steps. Someone sat in front of me.
“So you are a rioter! So you are undermining the State! Who you think you are? Who are you with?” I was gagged. He said “Why are you not talking?” I teared up.
I said “I am not with anyone.” He said “Shut up, speak when I tell you.” I was trembling all over. I felt my body tense up. I was so defenseless. He went on and on saying “Who are you with? You want to overthrow the State?” I said “How can I? I am not capable.” He said “Oh, yeah? You putting on a show? You think I am going to listen to you like others?” I kept silent. Next question: “What do you do?” I said “I am a student.” He said “No you are not. From now on don’t say you are a student.”
Suddenly I felt he was sitting on my legs. I couldn’t breathe from his weight. I was scared silent. I could feel his breathing on my face.
The first thing he did was lick my face. I felt my life drained. I felt my whole being escaping out of my mouth. He started to pull my clothes off. My hands bound, my eyes covered, I started crying. He shouted “Shut up whore!” Then he opened my bra and took my clothes off. He was stroking and hitting me at the same time. Saying “I will do something to you that you’ll never forget. I’ll make it so you never leave your house again. Anytime hear my name you’ll tremble, I’ll drive you insane”… and he did. He raped me.
Me, who never had a boyfriend. He raped me. Not with a baton … it was his filthy thing … his ugly male instrument. He raped me. Afterwards he urinated on me. The smell nauseated me. After a while he walked away and I was left with my sorrows. What happened? I was told from childhood to protect [my virginity] and now it was gone. What happened? I was in shock. After a while someone else came and meanwhile I had wet myself.
When he came he smacked me in my face and said, “You filthy scum you have stunk up the place!” Then he called some guy to come over and mop the floor. Then he went out and dragged something into the room, and sat in front of me. I could hear crinkling. He started unwrapping something. I didn’t know what, but when he flicked his lighter I realized he wanted to smoke. Until then he hadn’t said anything. I sat there with my hands tied. I sensed, I mean I heard, he put the cigarette to his mouth, and lit it. He said, “You are not talking? Are you mute? I’ll make you talk, who do you think you are?”
He untied my hands and started caressing me as if he wanted to make love. I had no feelings, I was numb from the beatings. Then something burned me. I screamed. He extinguished his cigarette on my left hand. I screamed. It hurt. It hurt a lot. I felt it penetrate to my bone. A hole in my hand. It burned, as if my hand was seared against a hot kettle… He still wasn’t done. He extinguished another cigarette on my knee. I was still consumed in the pain, when he put out another on my breast. I sensed it. I didn’t see it.
I keep using the verb “see” but I didn’t see anything, I was feeling everything. He put one cigarette after another on my body. I was burning. I felt my life drain from my veins. Why me? How much can I endure? How much should I suffer? I got quiet. I was crying. Someone else came into the room. I could hear the steps. He said something that I could not process. I was just raped an hour ago, and he said, “I’ve heard you are not a virgin. Did you do it with your boyfriend? How many guys have you been with?” In my heart I screamed, “You just raped me, you took my innocence, and now you are asking me how many guys I have been with? Before, I was a girl! You did this to me!”
I couldn’t comprehend that they were saying this. Me, who was a girl, living in this rotten society. I was someone who would tell off a guy who got too comfortable in the taxi cab next to me! Now he was telling me, “You had fun with your boyfriend? When they brought you here your hymen was broken… Which whorehouse do you come from? Are you a prostitute?” I couldn’t talk. I wanted to say, “It was your friends who raped me, it was you! You all! Before this I was a girl!”
I didn’t know how long I was there. I fell asleep. A kick to the stomach suddenly woke me up. I felt like my stomach filled with blood. I tasted blood in my mouth. They cursed and pulled me out of the cell. I could not breathe. I didn’t know how long had passed. I felt drowsy, I couldn’t walk, I fell unconscious and when I woke up I thought I was in a clinic, but I wasn’t. The walls were dirty. They wanted to give me an IV, but I didn’t let them. I was scared it was infected with AIDs. They just dressed my cigarette burns.
I could smell blood, I was still drowsy. I didn’t feel well. They took my back to the cell. I don’t know how much time passed. One week, two weeks. Every other day it was the same routine. They would take me into the room, they would beat me, rape me, they would pour their sperm and excrement on me, and they would supposedly wash me with a bucket of water.
They didn’t extinguish cigarettes on me anymore, maybe they thought it would leave marks. They mostly beat me. I got an infection because of the repeated rapes. My uterus got infected, it smelled, I had little ugly bumps, I thought it was syphilis. I got treated, but I was never sent to the hospital. When I got back, my parents just took care of me at home.
I suffered many things during those days, and then later I was still tortured by the remaining pain. My uterus was polluted and sick. My spirit was crushed. Me, who was an active person, I was scared of crowds. I don’t know how many times they raped me. I didn’t have a watch to calculate. May be it was ten minutes, but for someone under such stress ten minutes is like a lifetime. I just know the number of rapes was very high, and it wasn’t always the same person.
They had handed my belongings to my father. They called him from my mobile and told him that we have arrested her. They told him she was one of the demonstrators. They showed him the file that I had handwritten and my father pursued my case. They kept us in limbo for so long that we no longer asked them when they would release me. This whole time I told myself to be strong. Be calm. In one instance, it will all be over. Death was my wish. I wanted to die. I wanted it all be over. I wanted to die in my sleep. I wanted peace. I prayed that I no longer existed. I wanted to die.
In my dreams my only wish was death. In my dreams I was running in a field in a white dress. That field was so beautiful. It reminded me of a trip with my family, it was a beautiful memory. Those days I never thought one day I would be able to sit here and say what happened. To say what happened to me, to others. We are not Nasrin Sotoudeh, so that someone would come to our rescue. We are not Nasrin Sotoudeh, so that our voice would be heard. No one knows my name, no one knows where I am, no one, no one came to look for me.
When Neda died, all of Iran, the whole world, heard about it. But no one knew when they were raping me, when they were torturing me, when they were burning me with cigarettes.
I told myself one day I would speak so the whole world could hear. I would speak, I had promised myself. I signed in blood, a promise stronger than the bond of marriage. Unbreakable. I told myself that I would do it and I did it.
There are many of us, people that, because of their reputation and because of their life, they don’t speak up. People who are out there, people like me. Believe me, they are out there. They need you. All of you. Don’t let people like me suffer. It already happened to me, I’m only 22, but I feel old and I feel like dying. Please stop them. Please stop them. How did you help others? Please do it for us too. Us, who fear our reputation. If they see this video, what they will do to me? But I’m here. I’m speaking because I have to. Those who hear this, those who are like me, you have to speak. They have to understand. The whole world has to understand that there are those of us who are invisible.