June 21, 2018
A gang in the city of Iranshahr in the southwestern province of Sistan and Baluchistan has raped 41 women, yet none of the victims have come forward to report the crimes to the police. The news only emerged when one of the rapists confessed after being arrested. Soon after, Molavi Mohammad Taeb Molazehi, the Sunni Friday Prayers Leader of Iranshahr, urged the women to talk to police.
Molavi Molazehi was first to report news of the rapes, and the fact that the women had chosen to remain silent. The prayers leader had spoken with some of the victims, as well as some members of the gang. On Friday, June 15, during his sermon for Eid-al-Fitr marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan (Persian video), Molavi Molazehi hinted that the rapists had all come from prominent families. “If I say their names, some [people] would lower their heads in shame,” he said.
The 41 women were said to have remained silent out of fear of how their families and the community might respond. Mohammad Baluchzehi, the governor of Nikshahr in Sistan and Baluchistan, said their lives could be at risk since the practice of “honor killings” is not uncommon in the province.
According to Molazehi, in one case, a young woman was returning home from work when she was abducted in the alley outside her home and forced into a car. The crime took place during the holy month of Ramadan. Before the neighbors could do anything, the Friday prayers leader said, the car was gone and “this Muslim sister was in the clutch of wolves.”
Fear Judgment Day
The woman’s father went to Molavi Molazehi to appeal to him. “He was crying hard,” Molazehi said. “He said: ’if only the earth would swallow us up so we could escape this shame.’ Then last night the news came that one of these criminals had been arrested and confessed to raping 41 women. I plead to the officials and the authorities and those who handle justice to punish them…” He added that if they didn’t carry out the appropriate punishment, they in turn would be punished “on Judgment Day.”
Molavi Molazehi also said that the previous night he had talked to one of the rapists and instructed him to give himself up. He warned that if he didn’t, he would eventually be found. And again, he pointed out that the rapists were members of so-called respectable society. The four men, he said, “are our children — ours and yours. I swear to God, some of you will lower your heads in shame if I name names.”
He also said one of the victims had told him she was fasting and wanted to be left alone.
Some of the accused had refused to go to court. Alhough it was unclear why they had not been arrested or questioned by the police, it was suspected that this was linked to their families’ status in the community. “Only two or three of them went to court,” he told his audience. “It really makes you mad. They tell us to pray for rain. What prayer? You are sitting in the front row and you do not know what your sons have been doing?”
At Risk of “Honor Killings”
So why did these women refuse to go police to complain against the gang and make the crimes public? Samieh Ravazadeh, a nursing student at the city’s medical school and a native of Iranshahr who describes herself as an activist for the rights of Baluchi women, explained that some families in the region place more importance on the “honor” of their daughters than they do about their physical and psychological safety. This observation supports the statements made by Nikshahr governor Mohammad Baluchzehi. He warned that many of these women could face serious reprisals from their families if the families subscribe to the notion that a rape victim is “dishonorable” and brings shame on the family. He warned that in some cases, women were at risk of “honor killings.”
“Here, when a dark episode comes to light, the blame and the dishonor is directed at and only at, at the victim,” said Ravazadeh. “It is as though the victim is to blame. I understand perfectly well why not one of these 41 women stepped forward and volunteered to complain. I heard that one of the families went to the Friday Prayers Leader and it was he that insisted that they must go to the police. ‘I will stand by you,’ he told the family. ‘If you do not complain you are turning away from Islam and are giving the perpetrators an open field. You would be committing an injustice to the future victims.’ If it were not for him, that family would not have complained and perhaps nobody would have even learned about it for a long time.”
Speaking out About Rape
Ravazadeh says it was also feasible the victims were fearful of going to the police because their rapists belonged to some of the city’s most prominent families. “On the Friday Prayers pulpit, Molavi Molazehi very clearly said that the offenders belong to prominent families — [families sitting] in the front row. It is only natural that the women did not dare to complain, both because these people are from influential families and because of the dominant tradition in the region that [regards rape] as ‘dishonor’. The offender and the victim have changed places. It is the victim that hides her wounds from the public because she does not trust that the community will support her.”
Iranshahr’s Friday Prayers Leader said he would pursue the matter to the end, in marked contrast to the behavior of the parliamentary representative of Khomeini Shahr, who recently tried to hush up the rape of a five-year-old girl.
In a statement, Iranshahr’s governor Nabi Bakhshi Davoudi promised the city’s people that he would not compromise in his pursuit of the matter and that they would soon see that justice was done.
An employee of Iranshahr’s police headquarters told IranWire that the most recent victim had been beaten up before she was released outside her home. “After she returned home,” he said, “she could not hide [what had happened] because of the injuries she sustained, so she had to tell her family. They went to a clergyman who informed the Friday Prayers Leader and he convinced the family to file a complaint. A few hours after the complaint, authorities arrested a member of the gang thought to be responsible for many of the rapes, but three other gang members managed to escape into hiding. From what I have heard, another victim told the police that the abductors had many license plates in their trunk and when they abducted their victims, they changed the license plate of their car.”
The police employee said the offenders had “quickly surrounded the women in secluded neighborhoods and pushed them into a car.” The women had no chance to defend themselves, he said. “But the rapists’ car was identified by traffic police cameras.”
Ravazadeh points out that the locals have trust in the prayers leader Molavi Molazehi. “People say that he is a very enlightened person and is trusted by the public,” she said. “It was very important that he talked about it in a public forum. People praised him for making it public.” She also confirmed that he, like the governor, had promised to pursue the matter until it was resolved and justice had been done.
She believes that Molavi Molazehi refrained from naming both the perpetrators and the victims in an effort to prevent further pain for the victims, who had already lived through an extremely painful experience. “Perhaps he believes the victims could be pressured to withdraw their complaints,” she added.
Locals speculated that the remaining gang members might have escaped the country by crossing the border into Pakistan. What cannot be disputed is that if the first victim had been supported by her family and the immediate community around her, she would have felt safe going to the police. And if she had, 40 other innocent women might not have fallen victim to the same predators.