Syrian forces use sexual violence against men, women, children – HRW


Fri, 15 Jun 2012 10:17 GMT

Source: reuters // Reuters

Demonstrators protest against Syria‘s President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers in Maraa, near Aleppo, June 8, 2012. The placard reads, “Your tanks never scared us, we are staying here, you are mortal”. REUTERS/Shaam News Network/Handout

(Story contains graphic details of abuse and torture)

* Women complain of rapes during military raids

* Many Syrians reluctant to report “shameful” crimes

* Electric shocks to genitalia of prisoners

BEIRUT, June 15 (Reuters) – Government forces have used rape and other sexual violence against men, women and children during the Syrian uprising, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

The U.S.-based group said it had recorded 20 incidents from interviews inside and outside Syria with eight victims, including four women, and more than 25 other people with knowledge of sexual abuse – including medical workers, former detainees, army defectors, and women’s rights activists.

“Sexual violence in detention is one of many horrific weapons in the Syrian government‘s torture arsenal and Syrian security forces regularly use it to humiliate and degrade detainees with complete impunity,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

“The assaults are not limited to detention facilities – government forces and pro-government shabiha militia members have also sexually assaulted women and girls during home raids and residential sweeps.”

Cases were reported all around Syria, but most of all in Homs province, an epicentre of the revolt.

HRW quoted a man who said he had been held in the Political Security branch in Latakia in a cell with over 70 other people. He said young boys were treated worse than adults, brought back to the cell raped and with their fingernails pulled out.

“One boy came into the cell bleeding from behind. He couldn’t walk. It was something they just did to the boys. We would cry for them,” the man said.

HRW said many of the assaults were in circumstances in which commanding officers knew or should have known the crimes, such as electric shocks to genitalia, were taking place.

In another face-to-face interview a woman from the Karm al-Zeitoun neighbourhood of Homs city which was overrun by Assad’s troops said she heard security forces and shabiha militia rape her neighbours while she hid in her apartment in March.

“I could hear one girl fighting with one of (the men)… She pushed him and he shot her in the head,” HRW quoted the woman as saying. She said three girls, the youngest aged 12, were then raped. After the men left the woman went next door.

“The scene on the inside was unreal. The 12-year-old was lying on the ground, blood to her knees… More than one person had raped the 12-year-old… She was torn the length of a forefinger. I will never go back there. It comes to me. I see it in my dreams and I just cry.”

Some interviewees told HRW that victims did not want their families to know about the assault because of fear or shame. In one case, HRW said a female rape victim was willing to be interviewed but her husband forbade it.

“Even when they may wish to seek help, Syrian survivors of sexual assault have limited access to medical or psychological treatment and other services,” HRW said.

“It is critical that survivors of sexual assault have access to emergency medical services, legal assistance, and social support to address injuries caused by the assault; prevent pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections; and to collect evidence to support prosecution of perpetrators.” (Reporting by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Iran ‘detaining’ relatives of journalists: BBC


 The Iranian government has arrested relatives of Persian-language journalists working abroad for the BBC in a bid to silence them.

LONDON: The Iranian government has arrested relatives of Persian-language journalists working abroad for the BBC in a bid to silence them, the British Broadcasting Corporation said Friday.

BBC Director General Mark Thompson said the sister of a BBC Persian journalist was arrested last week and held in solitary confinement on unspecified charges at Evin Prison in Tehran, before being released on bail.

“Her treatment was utterly deplorable and we condemn it in the strongest terms,” Thompson wrote in a blog, adding that it was only the latest incident “in a campaign of bullying and harassment by the Iranian authorities”.

Human Rights Watch also raised concerns about the arrest. Its Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson warned it was “part of a wider campaign to harass Iranian journalists by putting pressure on them and their families”.

Tehran was sending a clear message “that the government’s long arm of repression can extend well beyond borders,” she said.

Foreign Office Middle East Minister Alistair Burt said he utterly condemned Iran’s “deplorable” tactics.

While it is not the first time the BBC has complained about Iranian harassment of its journalists, Thompson said the past few months had seen “increased levels of intimidation alongside disturbing new tactics.

“In recent months a number of relatives of members of BBC Persian staff have been detained for short periods of time by the Iranian authorities and urged to get their relatives in London to either stop working for the BBC, or to ‘cooperate’ with Iranian intelligence officials,” he said.

Relatives’ passports had been confiscated, preventing them leaving Iran, while BBC staff had been accused in the Iranian media of offences such as sexual assault, drug trafficking and converting from Islam to Christianity.

Thompson called on Tehran to repudiate the actions of its officials and urged governments and international bodies to help stop “this campaign of intimidation, persistent censorship and a disturbing abuse of power”.

BBC Persian, based in London, is a multimedia news and information service for Persian speakers in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and around the world.

Iran has frequently accused the BBC of fuelling the unrest that broke out following the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

An unnamed BBC staff member who spoke to Human Rights Watch said he and his colleagues had been exposed “to almost daily insults and personal attacks on various pro-government websites and blogs inside Iran”.

But the targeting of relatives “is really a red line for us, and we can’t stay silent”, the BBC worker said.

Foreign Office minister Burt said the Iranian authorities had a “shameful track record” of using family members to put pressure on Iranian lawyers, journalists and human rights activists.

“Such deplorable tactics illustrate again the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran, and the desperation of the Iranian regime to silence any independent voices,” he said.

“The international community has repeatedly called on the Iranian authorities to cease harassment and intimidation of journalists and to prevent illegal jamming of broadcasts. We will continue to do so.”   Published: February 4, 2012 AFP

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