By Tamara Qiblawi, Nima Elbagir and Barbara Arvanitidis
America’s top diplomat for Iran has highlighted CNN’s investigation into sexual violence that revealed sexual assaults on male and female activists, describing the reports as “unspeakable.”
Robert Malley, the US special envoy for Iran, said the the regime would not succeed in its efforts to crush protests that have spread across the country in the past two months.
“This report describes unspeakable acts of sexual violence by Iranian officials in detention centers,” US Special Envoy to Iran Robert Malley wrote Thursday in a tweet about CNN’s investigation. “It’s a reminder of what is at stake for the Iranian people — and of the lengths to which the regime will go in its futile attempt to silence dissent.”
Iran has been convulsed by anti-regime protests since the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by the country’s morality police apparently for not wearing her hijab properly.
In CNN’s investigation, published on Monday, covert testimony revealed sexual violence against protesters, including boys, in Iran’s detention centers since the start of the unrest.
CNN went to the region near Iraq’s border with Iran, interviewing eyewitnesses who’d left the country and verifying accounts from survivors and sources both in and outside Iran. CNN corroborated several reports of sexual violence against protesters and heard accounts of many more.
At least one of these caused severe injury, and another involved the rape of an underage boy. In some of the cases CNN uncovered, the sexual assault was filmed and used to blackmail the protesters into silence, according to sources who spoke to the victims.
Malley has led a US negotiating team to revive a 2015 Iran nuclear deal — from which former President Donald Trump withdrew — for nearly two years. The deal would see Iran curb its uranium enrichment program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Iran’s violent crackdown on protesters has prompted the talks to grind to a halt. In October, Malley said the US was not going to “waste our time” on the nuclear deal “if nothing’s going to happen.”
He said the US was still committed to diplomacy to constrain Iran’s nuclear program, but has turned its attention away from efforts on the nuclear deal amid sweeping protests in Iran and transfers of weapons from Tehran to Moscow for the war in Ukraine.
The special envoy’s comments reflected how stagnant the talks to restore the nuclear agreement have become — talks that just months ago the US and allies believed had reached a breakthrough. The International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Tuesday that Iran has enriched up to 60% in its underground Fordow nuclear facility.
Rising death toll reaches ‘critical’ stage
In the last week, over 40 people have died, including at least two children, as Iran was roiled with protests, according to the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHR). The country’s Kurdish regions have borne the brunt of the crackdown, with social media videos showing a large deployment of Iranian military forces in the Kurdish cities of Javanrud and Saqqez. Video also showed security forces gunning down unarmed protesters with live fire.
UN human rights chief Volker Türk said the rising death toll underscored the regime’s ramped-up crackdown on protesters and “the critical situation in the country.” According to the UN, over 300 people have died since the protests began in mid-September.
According to OCHR, more than 40 children have been killed since protests began in September, including two 16-year-old boys who died over the weekend. In a statement, it also addressed a crackdown on high-profile Iranians, including celebrities and athletes.
On Sunday, Iranian actresses Hengameh Ghaziani and Katayoun Riahi were arrested for showing their support for the protest movement online.
In a further sign of growing discontent in Iran, the national football team did not sing the national anthem at the start of its World Cup match with England on Monday.
The UN agency reminded the Iranian authorities of their obligation under international human rights law to “respect and ensure the rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression.”
“We call on the authorities to release all those detained in relation to the exercise of their rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, and to drop the charges against them,” the OCHR said.
More than 14,000 people have been arrested in connection with the protests, according to the UN. At least six of them have been sentenced to death.
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CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, Sugam Pokharel and Mostafa Salem contributed to this report.