An Iranian official said authorities investigating accusations of recent mass abductions and rapes of women in southeastern Iran have confirmed that at least one complainant was raped.
In an interview with Iran’s state-run news agency ISNA published Wednesday, Sistan Baluchistan province judiciary chief Ebrahim Hamidi said one of three women who have filed complaints about being raped in the city of Iranshahr has been confirmed as a rape victim by medical examiners.
It is the first confirmation of a rape victim in Iranshahr since its Friday prayer leader, or imam, stunned the country June 15, when he used a sermon to declare that 41 local women recently had been abducted and gang-raped.
Sistan Baluchistan is inhabited mostly by ethnic Baluchis, a predominantly Sunni group in Shiite-majority Iran.
In his Friday sermon, imam Mohammad Tayyeb Mollazehi, a Sunni, called on authorities to investigate the alleged abductions and rapes and punish those responsible. He later told Iranian state news agency ILNA that the incidents had happened over the last few months.
A video of Mollazehi’s sermon went viral on social media within hours of his remarks. In the following days, Iranian Twitter users, outraged by the allegations, posted tens of thousands of comments about them with Farsi hashtags such as #girls_of_Iranshahr.
Iranian state media reported the launch of an investigation and the arrest of a suspected perpetrator of the gang rapes Saturday, the day after Mollazehi’s sermon. They said several other suspects were on the loose.
In the ISNA report, Hamidi said that in addition to the three women who approached authorities with rape complaints after Mollazehi’s sermon, two other women have filed related complaints, one saying she was abducted and the other saying she was beaten.
Provincial officials have told state media that another suspect has been detained in connection with the investigation in the Sistan Baluchistan city of Zahedan, north of Iranshahr. They said that individual is thought to have provided a weapon to the suspect whose arrest was announced Saturday.
A group of women protested outside the office of Iranshahr’s governor on Tuesday, according to images posted on social media and verified by VOA Persian. The women held signs and chanted slogans demanding the prosecution of the alleged rapists, calling on authorities not to downplay the incidents, and urging victims to come forward with complaints.
In some Iranian communities, some families of rape victims view such women as stains upon their family honor, a belief that Iranian officials say has discouraged rape victims from filing complaints in the past.
Mollazehi’s revelations appeared to have angered Iran’s prosecutor-general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri.
“The person who made up such a story and then announced it at a public gathering, during a particular ceremony, must prove his claim, and if he fails to do so, then he can be prosecuted based on the law under the charge of disturbing public opinion,” Montazeri was quoted as saying in a Monday report by a state news agency. He did not mention the imam by name.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian service.