America’s top diplomat to Iran has highlighted CNN’s investigation into sexual violence, which revealed sexual assaults on male and female activists, calling the reports “unspeakable.”
Robert Malley, the US special envoy to Iran, said the regime would be unsuccessful in its efforts to quell protests that have spread across the country over 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 in a tweet about the CNN investigation. “It is a reminder of what is at stake for the Iranian people – and of the efforts the regime will make in its vain attempt to silence dissent.”
Iran has been rocked by anti-regime protests since the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the country’s vice squad, apparently for not wearing her hijab properly.
Undercover testimony uncovered sexual violence against protesters, including boys, in Iranian detention centers since the unrest began, CNN’s investigation released on Monday.
CNN went to the region near Iraq’s border with Iran, interviewing eyewitnesses who left the country and verifying accounts from survivors and sources inside and outside Iran. CNN confirmed several reports of sexual violence against protesters and heard reports from many more.
At least one of them caused serious injuries, another involved the rape of an underage boy. In some of the cases uncovered by CNN, the sexual assault was filmed and used to silence protesters, according to sources who spoke to the victims.
Malley spent nearly two years leading a US negotiating team to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran from which former President Donald Trump withdrew. The deal would result in Iran curtailing its uranium enrichment program in exchange for sanctions lifting.
Iran’s violent crackdown on protesters has caused talks to stall. In October, Malley said the US would not “waste our time” on the nuclear deal “if nothing happens.”
He said the US is still committed to diplomacy to curb Iran’s nuclear program but has diverted its attention from nuclear deal efforts amid widespread protests in Iran and arms shipments from Tehran to Moscow for the Ukraine war.
The special envoy’s comments reflected how stagnant talks to restore the nuclear deal have become – talks that the US and its allies believed had achieved a breakthrough just a few months ago. The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Tuesday that Iran had enriched up to 60% at its underground nuclear facility in Fordow.
Over the past week, more than 40 people have died, including at least two children, as protests have rocked Iran, according to the UN 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 by Iranian forces in the Kurdish cities of Javanrud and Saqqez. The video also showed security forces shooting down unarmed protesters with live fire.
UN human rights chief Volker Türk said the rising death toll underscores the regime’s intensified crackdown on demonstrators and “the critical situation in the country.” According to the UN, more than 300 people have died since the protests began in mid-September.
According to OCHR, more than 40 children have been killed since the protests began in September, including two 16-year-old boys who died over the weekend. A statement also addressed crackdowns on high-profile Iranians, including celebrities and athletes.
Iranian actresses Hengameh Ghaziani and Katayoun Riahi were arrested on Sunday for showing their support for the protest movement online.
In another sign of growing discontent in Iran, the national soccer team did not sing the national anthem at the start of their World Cup match against England on Monday.
The UN agency reminded the Iranian authorities of their obligation under international human rights law to “respect and ensure the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”
“We call on the authorities to release and drop the charges against all those arrested in connection with the exercise of their rights, including the right to peaceful assembly,” the OCHR said.
According to the United Nations, more than 14,000 people have been arrested in connection with the protests. At least six of them were sentenced to death.