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Rape Cases Stir Controversy In Iran’s Sunni-Populated Baluchestan

People of Iranshahr in the southeast of the country protesting an alleged gang rape-- 17 Jun 2018
People of Iranshahr in the southeast of the country protesting an alleged gang rape-- 17 Jun 2018

Iran’s Prosecutor-General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri has threatened June 18 to prosecute a local Sunni Imam in the city of Iranshahr in the southeastern province of Sistan va Baluchestan for disclosing that 41 girls have been raped in that city.

Mawlavi Tayeb Mollazehi’s disclosure of the rape cases on Friday, June 15, stirred controversy in the Sunni-populated province and has put the Islamic Republic’s judicial officials on the defensive.

Officials have an aversion to acknowledging rape cases because they are concerned these might undermine the claims to high standards of morality by the religious state.

This is probably why Prosecutor-General Montazeri rejected the local Imam’s assertion about the rapes as “baseless” and threatened to prosecute him if he fails to prove what he said, adding that “news about crimes with a family honor angle should remain secret,” several Iranian agencies quoted Montazeri as saying.

Montazeri is downplaying the gravity of the case, knowing that in an extremely traditional society it is difficult for the Imam to ask all the victims’ families to admit that their daughters have been raped. This is a matter of honor and few people may come forward to support the Imam’s statement.

Attorney General, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri (R)and Molavi Tayeb Mollazehi, Imam of Iranshahr
Attorney General, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri (R)and Molavi Tayeb Mollazehi, Imam of Iranshahr

According to the local governor of Iranshahr, Mohammad Baluchzehi, family members see the victims as a “disgrace” to their honor and the victims might be murdered by locals including their own family members. He said this kind of crime has happened in the region before.

However, he maintained that the victims were innocent, and called on higher-ranking officials to provide counselling for the families.

Baluchzehi added that it was the families’ silence about the rapes that led to the rise in the number of victims.

In the meantime, an Iranian MP has said that one of the rapists is a “rich and powerful” man.

Local judiciary officials, however, have said only three girls have been raped, adding that there are four suspects in the case.

The local prosecutor of Iranshahr has said only three families have filed complaints.

The local Imam has said that the rapist, “a rich man” has “confessed to 41 counts of rape.” Meanwhile he called on the family members of the victims to come forward and file complaints about the rape case.

He also called on the families and state authorities to protect the victims.

Reports from Iranshahr say groups of people have staged protest demonstrations in front of the local governor’s office on Sunday demanding government’s attention to the case.

On Monday, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said that he has ordered “redoubled efforts” by investigators to probe into the case.

The case is to be reviewed at the Iranian Parliament on Tuesday. In the meantime, MP Tayebbeh Siavashi has implied a link between the perpetrator and local big-wigs without naming anyone.

Siavashi said “One of the suspects is a rich and powerful man.”

A local governor in the region, Nabi Bakhshi, has been more explicit about the culprits, saying “The perpetrators will be arrested and punished no matter whose sons they are and to which ethnic group they belong.”

Sistan va Baluchestan is a volatile province because of its ethnic make-up, which is a mixture of Sunni and Shia and for being on the drug transit route from southwest Asia to Europe via Iran as well as for occasional insurgency of local tribes that at times have even taken members of Iranian security forces hostage.