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Iranian Women Prisoners Detail Torture: 'Death Was Like a Desire'

In a series of secretly recorded interviews, female prisoners disclose stories of horrific abuse during Iran's 2009 Green Revolution.

Thousands of Iranians took to the streets in 2009 as part of the Green Movement to protest a disputed presidential election. The government crackdown that followed included some women being imprisoned, tortured and raped. This report shares some of their stories. This report is a co-production with PBS NewsHour.


JEFFREY BROWN: Next, a rare look at dissent in Iran, including the abuse of female prisoners during and following the 2009 Green Revolution. That was when thousands took to the streets of Tehran and other cities to protest a disputed presidential election, before facing a violent crackdown by the government.

Our story is told through interviews recorded in secret with Iranian women. The correspondent's voice and the faces and voices of some of the women have been altered to protect their identities.

A caution: Some of the images and stories are disturbing.

CORRESPONDENT: It's been two years since the bloody days that followed Iran's disputed presidential election. I was there in the streets, along with hundreds of thousands of people.

During the uprising, known as the Green Movement, I witnessed horrific acts of suffering, including the death of Neda Agha Soltan. It was captured on video and posted on the Internet for the world to see. But I felt compelled to share some of the untold stories from that chaotic time.

WOMAN (through translator): When Neda died, all of Iran and the rest of the world knew. But when they were raping and torturing me, and putting out cigarettes on my body, nobody knew.

CORRESPONDENT: On a cold day this past winter, I met a 22-year-old woman I call Layla in a cafe. She was like any other vibrant, talkative girl, but I could see a deep sadness in her eyes. A month after the disputed election, Layla and several other women were randomly rounded up in the street by police who accused them of being part of the Green Movement.

WOMAN (through translator): When they arrested us and threw us in a van and beat us with clubs, they kept hitting us, and they verbally abused us. They took us somewhere. I didn't know where it was. The windows of the van were tinted.

CORRESPONDENT: She said she was taken to a secret prison.

WOMAN (through translator): When the guard was shaving my hair, he was purposely shaving in a way that would cut my skin very painfully. And he left a little patch of hair in front just to bother me. I wasn't sitting in a chair as he was cutting my hair. He was holding me from behind and rubbing himself against me.

CORRESPONDENT: Next, she was blindfolded and gagged. Then, with her hands tied behind her back, she was dragged into an interrogation room. After being questioned for only a short time, Layla says her interrogator became physical with her.

WOMAN (through translator): I was scared to death. The first thing he did was lick my face with his tongue. Then, he started touching my bra and all over my body. I was crying, "Please, please don't. I am innocent. I'm a virgin."

He said, "No, you are not a virgin anymore."

Then he raped me. After he raped me, he urinated on me, on my whole body.

CORRESPONDENT: Layla said her torture didn't end there.

WOMAN (through translator): Then I heard the sound of the whip in the air, and then felt it on my body. Then he untied my hands and he started caressing my arm like a lover. I felt something burning me just for a second. I screamed and he slapped me. He put out his cigarette on my left hand.

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