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Religious Minorities

Called A “Whore” And “Infidel:” The Story Of An Iranian Christian Woman Abused In Custody

February 2, 2023
Maryam Dehkordi
3 min read
Called A “Whore” And “Infidel:” The Story Of An Iranian Christian Woman Abused In Custody

An Armenian Christian woman was brutally detained during a protest in the Iranian capital in October 2022, at the peak of the ongoing demonstrations demanding more freedoms and women’s rights.

The young woman was released on bail after spending 40 days behind bars during which she was subjected to verbal humiliation and sexual harassment. As a part of her punishment, she must now write a 180-page research about Islam.

"I recall it so that I don't forget how insults and abuses made me a stronger person instead of scaring me," Elsa, which is a pseudonym to protect the woman’s identity, told IranWire.

Iran has been engulfed in a wave of protests since the September death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, while in custody for allegedly violating the country's headscarf law.

The women-led protest movement represents the biggest threat to Iran’s clerical rulers since the 1979 revolution that brought them to power.

In response, the authorities have unleashed a fierce crackdown on dissent, killing more than 520 people and detaining over 18,000, activists say. The judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.

“We weren’t allowed to eat or drink for hours”

Elsa recalled the afternoon of October 1 when security forces fired shotguns, paintballs and teargas to disperse crowds of protesters gathered in Tehran streets.

"Women removed their hijab. The atmosphere was very intense, with a heavy presence of security forces. We chanted, but the protesters didn’t attack and committed no violence.”

While Elsa was filming the riot police squad beating the protesters, she was hit by four pellets and received baton blows.

As she was returning home, a group of plainclothes officers surrounded her, violently hit her to the ground and tied her hands behind her back. 

She was then put into a van with other protesters and taken to a police station late in the evening.

"We sat on the ground in the police station’s yard. Young men with handcuffs were sitting in front of me. We were not allowed to eat or drink for several hours. The yard was full of officers. They beat the boys. Every officer passing by kicked them and left."

After midnight, Elsa was transferred to another police station along with dozens of other protesters.

“The interrogator called me a whore”

The security forces brought the inmates lentils and forced them to eat without a spoon. They were later taken to a prayer room where they sat until the morning.

The agents filed a case against all the detainees and took the passwords of their phones to check their content.

After that, Elsa and 21 other protesters were brought to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where her interrogations started. 

"I wasn’t really bothered by the long hours of interrogation, but by the offensive words used by the interrogator who was humiliating and ridiculing me because I was a member of a religious minority.

“The interrogator called me a whore. In every sentence, he was swearing and using sexual words. He said, 'You thought that because you’re a Christian you can do whatever you want and remove the hijab.’"

“He called me impure because I’m a Christian"

The interrogator used Elsa’s Armenian accent to humiliate her, saying she must be "illiterate."

"Every word was a wound to my heart. The interrogator said religious things in my ear and that he wanted me to return to the right path and stop being an infidel."

“Many times, he called me impure just because I’m a Christian."

Once, the interrogator unbuttoned Elsa's coat and spoke about his sexual fantasies.

"I was blindfolded, but I was sick of his whispering right next to my ear. He was saying dirty things and I was telling myself, ‘Don't be ashamed, you are witnessing the filth inside this person, and he is trying to attribute it to you.’"

Elsa was subject to a nervous attack during her final interrogation session, which lasted 10 hours.

"He gave me 200 or 300 written questions...He also asked me a series of questions orally. When I felt unwell, I asked for a glass of water. The interrogator said calmly and said, 'Don't act, there is no water to drink here, answer the questions.'”

In the end, Elsa was feeling so bad that two female agents took her back to her cell.



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