Tehran University Student Speaks Out Against “Virginity Tests,” Inhumane Interrogation Methods
Parisa Rafiei, a student at the University of Tehran, was pressured to take a “virginity test” while in state custody and then blocked from lodging a complaint against the inhumane practice, she revealed in an open letter published on May 9, 2019.
“In a totally unlawful action during my detention, my interrogator with the approval of the case investigator sent me to the medical examiner’s office on Behesht St. for a virginity test but I stood firm and despite threats and lots of pressure, they did not succeed,” she wrote.
“I insisted on lodging a complaint against this illegal request [of a virginity test] several times but the authorities refused and kept it quiet,” she added.
In a global call to eliminate violence against women and girls, the UN Human Rights Office, UN Women, and the World Health Organization called in October 2018 for an end to virginity tests, described as a “medically unnecessary, and often times painful, humiliating and traumatic practice.”
In their statement, the UN agencies also explained that the practice has “no scientific or clinical basis” and that “there is no examination that can prove a girl or woman has had sex.”
The 21-year-old photography student was arrested in February 2018 and held in Evin Prison in Tehran for 21 days for allegedly participating in street protests.
In August 2018, she was sentenced by a preliminary court to seven years in prison, 74 lashes, a two-year ban on traveling abroad and prohibited from political and social activities for two years under the charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state” and “disrupting public order.”
She is currently awaiting the result of her sentence appeal.
Parisa Rafiei’s father, Soltanali Rafiei, is a senior official of the reformist Islamic Union Party of Iran, a close political ally of President Hassan Rouhani.
She wrote that the authorities admitted to her that they backed off after she refused the test because they didn’t want to be accused of sexual assault.
“Probably what they meant is allegations of rape; allegations by me or other prisoners, even though the detention center was full of security cameras,” she wrote.
“Of course, the tremendous humiliation was not limited to the day I was sent to the medical examiner’s office,” wrote Rafiei. “The case investigator wanted to impose more psychological pressure by sending me so-called unofficial letters describing the place I was going to be held, without saying where it was, along with verbal threats of execution, beatings and even pulling out nails.”
“The reason I mention these details is that we should not think that the interrogators use just one tactic to extract the admission of guilt they are looking for,” she added.
Rafiei continued: “In addition to commonly imposing solitary confinement for days and months during the initial investigation stage, the authorities… transfer political suspects to unidentified detention centers which not only hamper the efforts of family and friends to find them, but also put the suspects under added psychological pressure.”
“A political suspect becomes more vulnerable to threats when she doesn’t know where she is being held under tight security measures and when she’s blindfolded and incapable of grasping the surrounding space,” she wrote.
Rafiei also noted that she had initially planned to submit her letter to Parliament’s Article 90 Commission, which was set up to investigate complaints against the three branches of Iran’s government, but decided to make the letter public instead because lawmakers “have brazenly sided with the security establishment.”
“Members of Parliament, especially the [pro-Rouhani] Hope Faction, were made aware of details of psychological pressures… during my detention,” she wrote.
“But have they investigated the unlawful secret detention centers run by the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligence organization or prolonged solitary confinement or, more importantly, the harassment of female prisoners with things like ‘virginity tests’?”
According to state officials, more than 150 university students were arrested in the aftermath of nationwide protests in Iran in December 2017 and January 2018.
In August 2018, 22 university students were issued heavy prison sentences under “national security” charges for allegedly attending the protests.