AMONG the many harrowing tales from Iranian refugees, few can match Farrokh’s account of how he was raped by the Basij for sticking posters on a wall. Sitting in his flat in the southern city of Kayseri, the 27-year-old, who is gay, told his story yesterday, growing agitated and chain-smoking while he did so.
"I still can’t believe anyone could do such a thing," he said. Though Farrokh is far from Iran he would still not give his full name or be photographed face-on for fear of reprisals against his family. He was a human rights activist working clandestinely for the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, a group that supports homosexuals in a country where gay sex is punishable by lashing or execution. In last year’s presidential elections, Farrokh campaigned for Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist candidate. He then supported the opposition movement in his home town of Karaj, an hour’s drive from Tehran.
On the symbolically important 40th day after the death of Neda Agha Soltan – a young woman whose shooting death made her a worldwide icon of the opposition – he went out at night with two friends to stick pictures of her on walls. Two plainclothes security agents in a passing car caught them and took them to a Basij base.
They were made to stand blindfolded in a yard for 90 minutes and were asked repeatedly whether they were working for the MKO – an exiled opposition movement. Farrokh was then taken alone to a classroom where the two men began hitting him. His problems really began when one of the men noticed that he had dyed hair and plucked eyebrows – a sign of being gay in Iran. They bludgeoned him with batons, kicked him and accused him of besmirching the honour of men. "I was begging for mercy," he said. "I told them I was a transsexual . . . I was saying I need a sex-change operation." Transgender people are at least tolerated by the regime but it made no difference. They took him to another room and left him.
When they returned they told him to take off his jeans and underpants. "I did what most people do – I started crying," he said. They told him mockingly that he was beautiful and they would like to do to his mother and sister what they were about to do to him. The men knocked him to the ground face down and one man knelt on his head and arms while the other raped him. Farrokh passed out. When he came round he was naked but alone. "I don’t even know if he finished or if he was the only one," he said. In the small hours of the morning he was given his clothes back and taken to another building, where his father was waiting. The Basij had found his number on Farrokh’s mobile telephone.
"We never talked of what happened but they knew," he said of his family. For days he slept, but only fitfully, suffered fainting fits and was afraid to be alone. Then he went back to his human rights work. "I needed to look at it like a fight, a war situation. It helped me persuade myself that what happened was not a catastrophe," he said.
Farrokh fled to Turkey in December. Another man, with whose former partner Farrokh had begun a relationship, recorded his telephone conversations and threatened to betray him. His house was raided days after he left. He is awaiting settlement in the West but yearns for his home and family.
Farrokh believes the regime uses rape as a weapon. He said of his attackers: "They don’t know what they are doing. They see the (Supreme) Leader as their god and they think whatever they do to serve him is moral and good. "What’s important to the regime right now is survival and nothing is off limits," he said.