Video with full statement in Persian and complete English transcript here
Interviewing a former Iranian Basij militia member
Since the election last June, hundreds, maybe thousands, of opposition protestors have been beaten and gaoled. Human rights groups have documented persistent reports of rape within the police stations and gaols.
Now, for the first time, we’ve spoken to a member of the Basij militia – the group said to be responsible for many of the abuses.
He was a broken man, seeking refuge in Britain, and from his own conscience.
“I feel pain and the shame in front of people and before God. I’ve lost my world and my religion,” he wept, as he recounted his story.
Aged 27, he had been a member of the Basij for as long as he could remember, born into a deeply religious family, utterly loyal to the Islamic Revolution and above all to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamanei.
For “Sayyed”, as we’ll call him, Ayatollah Khamanei was the incarnation of the 12th Imam, the equivalent of the Messiah in Shi’a Islam. Not far short of God, in other words.
So he didn’t question it when commanders told his Basij unit, months before the election, that the Supreme Leader had decreed that Ahmadinejad should win. Nor even when they were told to ignore the desires of illiterate voters and vote for Ahmadinejad on their behalf.
He had a twinge when he realised they were simply “disappearing” the ballot boxes with the votes of young people, who mainly voted for the opposition.
As he described how they were armed with batons, cables and other weapons and told to attack protestors, he started to cry.
He says he stood by, but his colleagues killed people on the streets of his city. But the local Basij, it seems, were not performing well enough. So when about a hundred young people were arrested and put in shipping containers, Basij from the provinces were brought in.
At this point in the interview, Sayyed sobbed, tears dripping down his anguished face. He walked around, but he said he wanted to come back and finish telling his story.
From the containers, he said, they heard the desperate cries of men and women, boys and girls, being raped by the Basij from outside the town.
It was 20 June. He gave us the name of the police station where he says the assaults took place, and identified the mullah in charge of the basij in his city. We’re not revealing any of the details which could identify him, but which we needed to know to authenticate his story.
He spoke in the elaborate, religious Persian used by many Basij volunteers, and while he was willing to talk to us, he refused to shake the hand of a woman, another sign of his religious background.
Maybe the most convincing authentification we have is that his story confirms the reports we’ve had from victims and human rights groups, who say rape has been used all over Iran in the brutal months since the June election. That and his desperation. Rarely have I interviewed someone so distressed.
“I am ashamed in front of people, even to say that I was mistaken, and I am ashamed in front of my religion,” he said. “I committed crimes, knowingly and unknowingly. Now I’m left with my conscience punishing me for what I did.”