#MeToo in Iran: women break their long silence

By: AFP      Published: 12:19 PM, 1 Sep, 2020
#MeToo in Iran: women break their long silence

Three years after the #MeToo movement spread globally, Iranian women have broken their silence on sexual violence, raising awareness about a subject that's taboo in the Islamic republic.

For the past week, many mostly anonymous internet users in Iran have come forward with allegations of falling unconscious and being raped after having their drinks spiked, all by the same man.

The method used by the alleged rapist has provoked outrage on social media, encouraging others to reveal cases of sexual assault experienced when they were still youths.

They have taken to Twitter to air their allegations, although they have done so without using the #MeToo hashtag.

Other Iranians, including a school teacher, an academic, a novelist, a renowned painter, a prominent singer, an actor and a tech executive are among the others to have faced accusations of rape and sexual assault.

- Society blamed -

The majority of the testimonies date back more than a decade.

This has caused some to deplore the lack of support in the face of such sexual violence that has been ignored for many years.

They have pointed the finger at society, the Iranian intelligentsia and even families as accomplices of the perpetrators of violence against women.

"This movement should have started much earlier," said Hana Jalali, a 25-year-old accountant in Tehran.

"I believe talking about these issues, them being publicised, is a great thing," she told AFP.

Somayeh Qodussi, a journalist with the monthly magazine Zanan ("Women" in Farsi), said the issue is highly sensitive in Iran.

"Rape is a taboo subject in Iran's society and it is difficult to talk about it even in one's own family," she said.

But "now we are seeing girls who seem willing to stand in the central square of the city" and make such allegations, she told AFP.

At least 20 women have come forward with accusations of having had their drinks spiked in the case that sparked Iran's #MeToo movement.

The anonymous Twitter users in Iran have adapted the #Rape hashtag to draw attention to their cause.

The police have called on the accusers to file a complaint against the alleged offender, Keyvan Emamverdi, a former bookshop owner who studied archaeology.

They have sought to assure women that they can do so anonymously and without fear of being accused of drinking alcohol or having extramarital affairs, both of which are illegal in Iran.

- 'Weapon' for justice -

"They expose the suffering they have endured for years by expressing themselves in order to remedy a long-hidden trauma," said Azar Tashakor, a sociologist.

The scope of the controversy was unexpected, and even the government has reacted.

One of Iran's vice presidents on Friday praised women for speaking out and called on the judiciary to "confront" sex offenders.

"In the absence of a legal structure in Iran to systematically prosecute rapes, victims use disclosure as a weapon to obtain justice," Tashakor said.

But she expressed concerns that such disclosures "will not lead to profound social change".

On social media, internet users have raised many concerns of their own, including over the tendency to blame and mistreat victims.

"It's hard to know if people are telling the truth or not," said Samaneh Rostami, a graphic designer in the Iranian capital.

"But talking about this issue is still a good thing, to be able to focus the public on what's happening, what's been happening for years," she said.

For the journalist Qodussi, it is crucial that the polemical issue has been brought to the public's attention.

"Many people have gained knowledge of the subject" for the first time, she said, adding that that was a "great achievement for Iranian women".

Egypt arrests three new suspects in gang rape case

Egyptian authorities have arrested three new suspects over the alleged gang rape of a woman six years ago in a luxury Cairo hotel, the public prosecution said on Monday.

The case has stirred a public outcry amid the resurgence of a #MeToo movement which seeks to hold sexual predators in the deeply conservative country accountable for their actions.

"The public prosecutor has ordered the detention of three suspects...for the purpose of investigating events for which they have been accused as part of the ongoing investigation into the attack on a young woman in the Fairmont Nile City hotel," a statement said.

The rape allegedly took place in 2014 but the allegations only emerged online in July. 

Names and pictures of suspects, who appear to hail from wealthy families, have circulated online, but AFP has been unable to verify their authenticity. 

The new suspects will be administered tests for possible drug use, the prosecutor said.

The prosecutor also said three previously arrested in the case have been freed on bail amounting to 100,000 Egyptian pounds (5,280 euros.) The identities of these suspects were not released.

Last week, the Egyptian prosecution said the case involved nine men -- seven of whom fled the country and were being pursued by Interpol.

The prosecution said Sunday that a man identified as Omar Hafez was arrested August 28 and ordered detained for four days pending an investigation into the assault.

Last Wednesday, the prosecution announced the arrest of Amir Zayed, another suspect in the case who it said was also accused of involvement in "a similar incident".

On Saturday, Lebanese police said it had arrested three Egyptian nationals after receiving a letter from the Egyptian Interpol. 

The Egyptian prosecution launched the probe earlier in August after receiving a letter from the National Council for Women, which included a complaint from the woman who claimed she had been gang-raped at the Fairmont in 2014.

The hotel has said it had conducted an internal investigation but found "that at no time were any reports of the incident filed to the hotel, nor to the hotel's tourism police".

UN surveys have found that most Egyptian women have been subject to harassment ranging from catcalling to pinching and groping.

Egypt's parliament earlier this month approved amendments to the criminal code granting victims of sexual assault the right to anonymity. 

Egyptian authorities have criminalised sexual harassment since 2014, but many women complain that the problem remains rampant.