• Press Release

Imprisoned cartoonist subjected to forced virginity test in Iran

October 9, 2015

A recent revelation by satirical cartoonist Atena Farghadani that she was forced to undergo a “virginity and pregnancy test,” prior to her trial for a charge of “illegitimate sexual relations” for shaking hands with her lawyer, has added another stain on Iran’s shameful record of violence against women, Amnesty International said today.

In a note written by Atena Farghadani leaked from prison, which has been seen by Amnesty International, she says the judicial authorities took her to a medical center outside the prison on August 12, 2015 and forced her to submit to the tests, purportedly with the purpose of investigating the charge against her.

“It is shocking that on top of imposing a ludicrous charge on Atena Farghadani for the ‘crime’ of shaking hands with her lawyer, the Iranian authorities have forced her to undergo a ‘virginity and pregnancy test’,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

“In doing so, the Iranian judicial authorities have truly reached an outrageous low, seeking to exploit the stigma attached to sexual and gender-based violence in order to intimidate, punish or harass her.”

Coerced “virginity testing” is internationally recognized as a form of violence and discrimination against women and girls. It also violates the absolute prohibition of torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law, including article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Iran has ratified.  

“The Iranian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Atena Farghdani, who is a prisoner of conscience.  Whilst in custody, she must be protected from any further ill-treatment or reprisals, including pressure to retract her complaint. An independent and impartial investigation has to be urgently conducted into the alleged torture and ill-treatment suffered by Atena Farghadani and those responsible brought to justice,” said Boumedouha.

Atena Farghadani and all women prisoners who come forward to report gender-based violence should be commended for their bravery and granted full reparations, including guarantees that it will not happen again.

Instead of exploiting the taboos around sexual violence to scare women from engaging in political activism, the Iranian authorities must urgently take steps to put an end to violence and discrimination against women and guarantee women’s access to legal procedures that will bring justice in cases of gender-based violence.

Since she was charged with “illicit sexual relations falling short of adultery” for shaking hands with her lawyer in June 2015, Atena Farghadani has complained that prison officials and guards have made lewd gestures, sexual slurs and other insults to her. She went on a three-day “dry” hunger strike in September 2015 in protest at this ill-treatment; however the harassment has continued.

Atena Farghadani is a prisoner of conscience. She has committed no internationally recognizable crime, and has been punished simply for exercising her rights to freedoms of expression, association and assembly.

Held in prison since January 2015, Atena Farghadani was sentenced in June 2015 to 12 years and nine month in prison for her peaceful activism, including meeting with families of political prisoners, and for drawing a satirical cartoon depicting legislators as monkeys, cows, and other animals. The cartoon was in protest at a bill that seeks to criminalize voluntary sterilization and restrict access to contraception and family planning services.

In December 2014, when she was out on bail she released a video message on YouTube protesting at how female prison guards at Evin prison had beaten her, verbally abused her and forced her to strip naked for a body search. Instead of investigating these allegations the Iranian authorities rearrested her in January 2015, possibly in reprisal for the video.

Forced virginity testing committed in detention is a serious violation of international law. It violates women and girls human rights to physical integrity, dignity, privacy and right to be free from torture and cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment.  Such tests are discriminatory in purpose and in effect and there is absolutely no legitimate justification for such violence and abuse.

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) has urged health authorities worldwide to end the practice of “virginity testing” in all cases and prohibit health workers from perpetuating this discriminatory and degrading practice.