Amnesty International revealed in a report published Wednesday that the Islamic regime of Iran kidnapped, disappeared, and tortured peaceful protesters following the November 2019 uprising. Survivors told the NGO that they experienced waterboarding, electrocution, and sexual violence.
Witnesses say among those tortured were children as young as ten years old. Many of the tortured were forced into offering false confessions and put on “trial” without access to a lawyer.
The extensive Amnesty report, titled, “Trampling Humanity: Mass Arrests, Disappearances, and Torture Since Iran’s 2019 November Protests,” confirms widespread reports in November and December of last year of Iranian police and military killing, torturing, and disappearing dissidents, particularly those of Kurdish and Turkic minorities. At the time, reports estimated that Iran killed as many as 100 civilians on the streets of multiple large cities.
“In response to nationwide protests in November 2019 by tens of thousands of people … the Iranian authorities waged a campaign of mass repression that led to hundreds of deaths,” Amnesty’s report relayed, “resulting from the deliberate use of lethal force, and to the arrest of more than 7,000 men, women and children as young as 10 years old within a matter of days.”
Iran whisked many of those its officers did not kill into unmarked vans, trapping them in torture facilities where they endured, among other things, beatings, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, sexual abuse, and electrocution, the report goes on to say. Some survivors say they were psychologically tortured, told they were about to be executed and forced to undergo “mock” executions or falsely told their friends and family were in the facility and also undergoing torture.
Among the torture techniques that Amnesty reported it had confirmed from primary sources in the report were “stripping detainees and spraying them with cold water, and subjecting detainees, including children, to extreme temperatures and/or bombardment of light or sound over a sustained period, forcible extraction of the nails from fingers or toes, pepper spraying, forced administration of chemical substances, electric shocks, waterboarding, and mock executions.”
“Interrogators and prison officials perpetrated sexual violence against male detainees, including through stripping and forced nakedness, invasive body searches intended to humiliate the victims, sustained sexual verbal abuse, pepper spraying the genital area, and administering electric shocks to the testicles,” the report continued.
Those injured in their arrest often did not have access to any medical attention, the report asserted.
“Most frequently,” Amnesty narrated, “victims recounted being hooded or blindfolded, punched, kicked, flogged, beaten with sticks, rubber hosepipes, batons and cables, suspended and/or forced into holding painful stress positions for prolonged periods, deprived of sufficient food and potable water, and placed in prolonged solitary confinement, sometimes for weeks or even months.”
The report stated that Amnesty International confirmed the arrests of over 500 people, both protesters and those simply known for being vocal about human rights in the country. Iranian officials allegedly used surveillance video to identify many in the protests and, on some occasions, intimidated their families.
At least three of the identified prisoners have received a death sentence in an unfair trial for crimes such as “enmity against God.” The NGO documented at least two known cases of minors subject to sexual abuse by authorities.
Amnesty International’s report quoted some of the survivors anonymously.
“My interrogators tortured me in all sorts of ways … They told me ‘If you die, it will be like a dog dying. It’s not important to us if you live or die.’ The pain was horrific,” the report quoted one of the victims as saying. “At one point, I was just wishing to die so that I would be free of the pain and torture. Human life is not important to them.”
Another described the electroshock torture in detail.
“The electric shocks were the worst form of torture for me. One of my interrogators would instruct the others to ‘tickle him a little,’ by which they meant to administer a low voltage shock. But this so-called ‘tickling’ felt like my entire body was being pierced with millions of needles,” the victim reportedly said. “If I refused to answer their questions, they would raise the voltage levels and give me stronger electric shocks. Each time I was given one of these stronger electric shocks, it felt like there was an earthquake in my body … I would shake violently and there would be a strong burning sensation coursing through my whole body… To this day, I have continued to be affected.”
Much of what Amnesty International detailed on Wednesday – with significantly more research and detail — echoes what local human rights organizations claimed was occurring at the time. In December 2019, the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN) published a report accusing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, of using sexual abuse to torture imprisoned dissidents. At the time, Iranian officials had moved from arresting protesters to arresting individuals for attending the funerals of protesters.
“After we were detained, they placed black bags over our head and forced us into a Peugeot 405, then took us to an unknown location. They kept us in rooms half a meter by half a meter wide. We could hear the screams of the other detainees being tortured at night, and the rooms were so small that we couldn’t stretch our legs,” one survivor said at the time, quoted in the KHRN report.
Throughout the early days of the November 2019 protests — triggered by a spike in gasoline prices exacerbating an already dire economic crisis — Iran shut down internet access nationwide, making it difficult for the international community to know what was happening inside the country. In late November, with internet restored, protesters and dissident groups began uploading harrowing videos of state massacres of protesters in Iranian cities.
At the time, the head of the IRGC, Major General Hossein Salami, insisted that Iran had “shown restraint” before the protesters, accusing them not of being discontented citizens but rather foreign agents working with America and Israel.
“We have shown patience towards the hostile moves of America, the Zionist regime, and Saudi Arabia against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said. “But we will destroy them if they cross our red lines.”