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U.N. Report says Iran tortured, murdered protesters

Iran’s 2022 Protest Crackdown Included Killings, Torture and Rape, U.N. Finds

New York Times

March 8, 2024

Reporting from Geneva


A fact-finding mission looking into the demonstrations that followed the death of Mahsa Amini found brutality and rejected Iran’s version of Ms. Amini’s death.


Iranian police officers confronting protesters at a demonstration over the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini in 2022 in Tehran.Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


United Nations investigators say Iranian authorities killed, tortured and raped women, men and children in a brutal repression of mass protests that erupted over the death in police custody of a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for allegedly wearing a mandatory hijab incorrectly.


A U.N. fact-finding mission reporting to the Human Rights Council in Geneva cited as credible estimates that 551 people were killed by security forces, most of them by gunfire, as part of a widespread and systematic crackdown on the protests, which were mostly led by women. The casualties included at least 49 women and 68 children.


“Many of the serious human rights violations outlined in the present report amount to crimes against humanity, specifically those of murder, imprisonment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts, that have been committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population,” the mission states in the report. The Human Rights Council will discuss the report next week.


The use of lethal force during largely peaceful protests was unlawful and the deaths amounted to extrajudicial executions, the investigators said. But they also reported that the authorities had summarily executed at least nine young men after cursory trials on charges linked to the protests and that several people had died in custody as a result of torture.


The report also contained findings on Ms. Amini, 22. Iranian authorities claimed that a government investigation into Ms. Amini’s death concluded it was caused by underlying medical issues. The U.N.’s investigators flatly rejected that finding.


“The mission is satisfied that Ms. Amini was subjected to physical violence that led to her death,” it said, drawing attention to evidence of trauma inflicted on her body while in police custody. “On that basis, the state bears responsibility for her unlawful death.”


Iranian authorities, instead of impartially investigating Ms. Amini’s death, “took active steps to obfuscate the truth,” the mission reports, harassing and intimidating her family and prosecuting the family’s lawyer and three journalists reporting on her death.


“The Islamic Republic’s violent repression of peaceful dissent and severe discrimination against women and girls in Iran has been confirmed as constituting nothing short of crimes against humanity,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran.


“These violations disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in society, women, children and minority groups,” he added.


The fact-finding team, which was set up at the end of 2022, was refused access to Iran. It said it faced obstacles from government electronic surveillance, harassment and intimidation of some witnesses and victims, deterring many people from giving evidence. But through in-depth interviews with others, along with access to independent reports, medical imaging and official documents, the mission said it was able to collect sufficient evidence to establish facts.


It details patterns of the use of lethal and less lethal force by security forces to disperse protests, including using weapons armed with birdshot and systematically targeting the head, face, neck and genitals of protesters, often inflicting permanent, life-changing injuries.


In their crackdown, the authorities arrested tens of thousands of people, including hundreds of children, some as young as 10, the mission said, noting official statements that the government had pardoned 22,000 people and that the average age of those detained was 15.


But the mission also unveiled evidence of the torture and sexual violence directed at detainees to extract confessions and information and to punish and humiliate the victims. Physical abuse included beating, burning, electric shocks and being held in stress positions. The sexual violence, which investigators said was used against women, men and children, included rape and threats of rape, electrocution of genitals, forced nudity and groping.


Children were held for days, even weeks, without knowing the reasons for their detention and without contact with their families, the investigators reported. “As with adults, they were subjected to severe physical, psychological and sexual torture, including rape.”


The worst abuses, the mission found, were carried out in unofficial places of detention run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and the intelligence ministry.


In some cases, the mission reported, the authorities justified sexual violence on the basis that this was “the freedom they wanted.”


Nick Cumming-Bruce reports from Geneva, covering the United Nations, human rights and international humanitarian organizations. Previously he was the Southeast Asia reporter for The Guardian for 20 years and the Bangkok bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal Asia. More about Nick Cumming-Bruce


A version of this article appears in print on March 9, 2024, Section A, Page 4 of the New York edition with the headline: Rape, Killings And Torture Of Protesters.


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Copyright 2024 The New York Times Company

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